BEIRUT - Syria's outgoing opposition chief published an initiative for his war-torn country on Thursday that would grant President Bashar al-Assad a safe exit, and urged dissident factions to adopt his plan. Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib published his initiative on Facebook, as the main National Coalition he headed until March gathered in Istanbul to choose a new leader and discuss a US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2.

Under Khatib's initiative, Assad would have 20 days from Thursday to give "his acceptance of a peaceful transition of authority". After accepting, Assad would have one month to hand over power to either Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi or Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa, who would then govern Syria for a transitional period of 100 days. As part of the transition Khatib envisages, Assad would "leave the country along with five hundred people whom he will select, along with their families and children, to any other country that may choose to host them". This is the first time one of Syria's opposition chiefs has made an offer of political immunity to Assad and key members of his regime.

Meanwhile, Germany's foreign intelligence service believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have gained strength, revising its prediction from last year of a quick regime collapse, a media report said.

Assad's forces are now able to keep the rebels in check, although victory remains elusive, according to a report by the service chief Gerhard Schindler, news site Spiegel Online reported. The assessment is a reversal from last year when the service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, pointed at a wave of desertions by regime troops and predicted the regime's fall by early 2013.