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Moderate Islamic preacher expected to unify Syrian opposition groups

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"We are raising our voice for freedom for every human being in this country, for very Sunni, for every Alawite and for every Ismaili and Christian from the Arab or from the great Kurdish nation," he said, flanked by Aref Dalila, a veteran Alawite economist and leading Syrian writer Michel Kilo, a Christian.

The words hit home. "One hand! The Syrian people are one!" chanted the crowd in the staunchly Sunni northern suburb of Douma, where Alkhatib stood out among the other, traditionally-dressed clerics with his western-style suit.

A moderate Islamist preacher, al-Khatib was imprisoned several times after the speech, which set the tone for the mainly Sunni protests before Assad's crackdown made sectarian tensions soar.

More than a year and a half later, more than 38,000 people have been killed in ground and ariel bombardments of mainly Sunni areas by government forces and Alkhatib is among many prominent Syrian opposition figures forced to flee.

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