A rare meeting of the Syrian opposition that took place in Damascus Sunday and called for “toppling the regime with all of its symbols and forms” is leading Arab news coverage Monday.

The meeting took place in the presence of the Chinese, Russian and Iranian ambassadors and was made possible by a Russian guarantee that the government would not intervene, reports the London-based daily Al-Hayat.

Bushra Assad, the president’s sister, has reportedly fled the country to Dubai citing a ‘difference of opinion.’ Assad has registered her five children in private schools in Dubai

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based daily, reports that the meeting, titled “Rescuing Syria,” was led by a coalition of opposition groups, and notes that many groups were absent; either due to their own choice or because the government banned their participation. The daily reports that neither the Syrian flag not the revolutionary flag were displayed at the hall.

Bushra Assad, the president’s sister, has reportedly fled the country to Dubai citing a “difference of opinion,” claims the daily. Assad has registered her five children in private schools in Dubai.

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that for the first time, Syria will be represented in the UN by two different speakers. The UN has allowed Abdul Basit Sida, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, to represent the country officially in the 67th General Assembly meeting. The daily reports that Arab countries, led by Qatar, have lobbied for the move.

‘These shabiha – known mistakenly as “journalists” — do not hesitate to broadcast rumors and propagate lies which serve the regime every time they are hosted on Syrian or Iranian satellite channels’

Al-Hayat columnist Jameel Theyabi accuses some media outlets in Lebanon of functioning as pro-Assad shabiha (government thugs) by denouncing critics of the regime as pro-Zionist and pro-Western.

“Since the start of the revolution, these shabiha — known mistakenly as ‘journalists’ — do not hesitate to broadcast rumors and propagate lies which serve the regime every time they are hosted on Syrian or Iranian satellite channels … these people treat the massacres as though what is being spilled is a bucket of water rather than the blood of innocent civilians,” writes Theyabi.

Khaled Mashaal to step down

A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’ political wing, will not nominate himself for a third term in office.

Mahsaal is reportedly fed up with the infighting in his movement, with his main opposition coming from the Gaza leadership and officials such as Mahmoud Al-Zahar and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Moussa Abu-Marzouq, Mashaal’s number two and main contender for the job, is also reportedly active in his removal.

Mashaal told A-Sharq Al-Awsat in Cairo that the movement’s Shoura Council is tasked with choosing alternative candidates.

Obama demanded replacement for the Iraqi president

US President Barack Obama contacted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in November 2010 and asked him to vacate his seat for Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya bloc, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports, quoting Iraqi and American sources.

The Americans have grown concerned about ‘Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s slide towards despotism’

According to the report, the Americans have grown concerned about “Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s slide towards despotism,” which they attempted to counterbalance through their ally Allawi.

Fouad Maasoum, head of the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi parliament and a confident of Talabani, told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that Iraq’s delicate sectarian balance could not allow such a move, noting that both Prime Minister Maliki and Allawi are Shiite Muslims, whereas Talabani is a Kurd.

Iran and its threats

The lead editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi Monday deals with threats voiced by the head of Iran’s aerospace program, Ali Hajizadeh, whereby Iran could launch a preemptive military strike if convinced it is about to be attacked.

The editorial claims that the chances that Iran will indeed initiate such an attack are slim, but the use of psychological warfare is intended to counterbalance Israeli threats.

“This Iranian language of escalation comes as a response to similar Israeli language, typified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who repeated more than once that if the US administration does not place red lines before Iran, his government will opt for war, considering that a sovereign decision.”