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25 Feb, 2013 03:14

Damascus ready for talks with armed groups, rebels demand Assad’s resignation

Damascus ready for talks with armed groups, rebels demand Assad’s resignation

The Syrian government is ready for negotiations with the opposition, including armed groups, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said while in Moscow for talks. The opposition is divided with rebels refusing to talk until President Assad steps down.

“We are ready for dialogue with anyone who wants dialogue, including those who are fighting with arms in their hands, because we are confident that reforms cannot be carried out through bloodshed, but through dialogue,” Muallem said ahead of the talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The Syrian FM pointed out to Lavrov that there are rebel fighters from some 30 foreign countries engaging in fighting in Syria at the moment.

“Today Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, is involved in main fighting in Syria. It invited fighters from 28 countries including Chechnya,” he said.

Russia`s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged Syrian government not to give in to provocations by those who oppose a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.

“The number of the supporters of this realistic line [peaceful solution] is increasing. Those who want to continue the war feel it. They try to strangle positive tendencies among the opposition and prevent steps towards the dialogue,”
he said.

Lavrov reiterated that Russian position remains unchanged as Moscow only seeks a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, said he had not yet been in contact with Damascus about any talks.

"The visit to Moscow is delayed now until we see how things develop," Alkhatib told reporters in Cairo.

The response from the opposition on the ground was categorical. There could be no negotiations until President Bashar Assad steps down and leaders of the army and security forces are put on trial, a Syrian rebel leader was quoted by Al Arabiya Television.

"We will not go [into talks] unless these demands are realized," Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a military command said.

The location of the possible talks is also contentious as the opposition wants to hold negotiations abroad or on rebel-controlled territories, while Damascus insists it should be conducted on Syrian territory under government control.

The official oppositional body, the Syrian National Coalition did not take part in Moscow talks. Last week the coalition announced that it would turn down the invitation to Moscow negotiations with the Syrian government to protest the recent attack on the city of Aleppo.

Some 30 people were killed in Aleppo in Friday as rockets hit residential area. Activists reported hundreds of dead, but the information was never confirmed.

‘Friends of Syria’ – no friends of opposition?

Following the attack on Aleppo the Syrian National Coalition also refused to attend the meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria scheduled for this Thursday in Rome.

The statement released by the coalition said the international community "amounts to participating in two years of killings" by staying silent about "the crimes committed every day against our people."

This is despite the National Coalition's leader Moaz al-Khatib saying earlier this month that he was ready to meet with Syrian government to discuss an end to the violence.

The initiative was strongly backed by international powers, including Russia, and he was invited to Washington and Moscow. Now those visits will not take place.