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8 Jul, 2013 16:34

Russia urges new Syrian opposition leadership to participate in peace talks

Russia urges new Syrian opposition leadership to participate in peace talks

The rebel Syrian National Coalition's new leader’s refusal to enter into Geneva peace talks resolving violence in Syria has been mourned by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which urges participation in the interests of stopping the “devastating conflict.”

“According to our estimates, which are shared by our American partners, the main task in promoting a peaceful political solution in Syria is the consolidation of different groups within the Syrian opposition on the platform of the Geneva protocol from June 30, 2012,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said on Monday.  

Ahmad Jarba, the new head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Sunday that he rejected the option of attending a peace conference in Geneva sponsored by Geneva and the US on the grounds of the rebels’ weak position.

“Geneva in these circumstances is not possible. If we are going to go to Geneva we have to be strong on the ground, unlike the situation now, which is weak,” Jarba said on Sunday.

Ahmad Jarba (AFP Photo / Syrian National Coalition Media Office)

Lukashevich said that his comments “raised a number of questions about future actions of the National Coalition and most importantly, about its commitment to a political settlement of the protracted crisis in Syria.”

Russia remains prepared to jointly oversee and engage in peace talks alongside the US.

“Moscow is ready to establish contact with the new leadership of the coalition in the interests of facilitating an end to the devastating conflict in Syria,” Lukashevich said.

He outlined the importance of the rebels being willing to send their representatives to the peace conference in Geneva, “without any preconditions and through cooperative effort start the search for specific parameters of political settlement.”

The Syrian opposition has been sticking to their demands for weapons amid discussions of peace talks overseen by both the US and Russia.

The rebel collective is currently anticipating the delivery of advanced weapons from Saudi Arabia, including shoulder-fired missiles, to use against Syrian government air power, Jarba told Reuters.

“I will not rest until I procure the advanced weapons needed to hit back at Assad and his allies. ... I give myself one month to achieve what I am intent on doing,” Jarba said, announcing that he expected advanced weapons supplied to the rebels by Saudi Arabia to reach his fighters “soon.”

A handout picture released by the opposition-run Shaam News Network on June 2, 2013, shows smokes rising as a mortar shell hits a building in the town of al-Hula in the Syrian province of Homs during clashes between rebel forces and pro-government troops (AFP Photo / HO / Shaam News Network)

Violence in Homs spills into tenth day

On Monday the battle between Syrian forces and rebel groups in Homs entered its tenth day. Homs in central Syria is considered of vital importance by both the government and rebels.

The army wrested a contested district of the city from rebels on Monday, government officials told AP, while city-based opposition activists countered the assertion.

The official said that the government was still facing rebel-held pockets, while one of the activists, Abu Yasin, said government forces had not advanced beyond a series of buildings they seized earlier in the week.

Central parts of the city remain under the control of opposition troops, which Assad’s forces have been targeting with air strikes, mortar bombs and tanks. Rebels seeking his ousting have clung on to parts of the city which they took over a year ago, but have since been under siege.

A handout picture released by the opposition-run Shaam News Network on July 2, 2013 shows rebel fighters scouting the area in Syria's central city of Homs (AFP Photo / HO / Shaam News Network)

Homs links the capital, Damascus, to army bases in both coastal areas and Hezbollah strongholds in nearby Lebanon making it of key strategic significance. Rebels control a large part of northern Syria but Assad's army retook Qusair last month, a town in Homs province and near the border with Lebanon.

The rebels proposed a truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in Syria on Tuesday, to stop the fighting in Homs.

The Syrian government rejected the idea on Monday, with Syria's U.N. ambassador stating "we need a full end of violence, not a partial one," according to AP.

Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari asserted that Syrian rebels would have to fully engage in the peace negotiations and commit themselves to participation in a U.S.-Russian sponsored round of talks in Geneva.