Damascus agrees Moscow-led talks
MOSCOW / DAMASCUS
Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen in Kafranbel near Idlib in this file photo. Clashes continued yesterday as Syrian troops pushed back dissident troops from some suburbs on the outskirts of Damascus.Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen in Kafranbel near Idlib in this file photo. Clashes continued yesterday as Syrian troops pushed back dissident troops from some suburbs on the outskirts of Damascus.
yria has agreed to take part in Moscow-mediated talks on solving the country’s crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday, calling on the Syrian opposition to join the planned negotiations, while activists claim that 80 people killed across Syria Jan. 29 alone in clashes between the opposition and regime forces.
However, a senior member of the Syrian opposition council said that no invitation had been received from Moscow and that it would be refused anyway. The head of the Syrian National Council said yesterday that the opposition rejects all talks with the Damascus regime until President Bashar al-Assad steps down.
“The resignation of Assad is the condition for any negotiation on the transition to a democratic government in Syria,” Burhan Ghalioun said. Moscow, a permanent U.N. Security Council member with veto powers, has offered to host the talks in an effort to end the bloodshed. “Our offer has already received a positive response from the Syrian authorities. We are expecting that the opposition will also give their assent in the next days and put the interests of the Syrian people before any other ideas,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Russia also appears keen to prove it is playing a constructive role to defuse the crisis. Russia said its offer to host talks was motivated by its desire to see an end to the crisis “through a peaceful mechanism worked out by the Syrians themselves, without international interference.”
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office urged Moscow to reconsider its stance. The British and French foreign ministers were heading to New York for U.N. talks set for today as they and Arab countries push for a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan.
Despite Russia’s statements, the clashes between the oppostion and regime forces continued yesterday. Activists reported at least 28 civilians killed yesterday. On Jan. 29, 80 people were reportedly killed, equally divided between military and civilian casualties. Syrian forces heavily shelled the restive city of Homs yesterday and troops pushed back dissident troops from some suburbs on the outskirts of Damascus trying to regain control of the capital’s eastern doorstep, activists said. The past three days, pro-Assad forces have been fighting to take back a string of suburbs on the eastern approach to Damascus where army defectors who joined the opposition had seized control. Government troops managed on Sunday evening to take back two districts closest to Damascus, Ein Tarma and Kfar Batna, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory. The regime forces were trying to take the next suburbs farther out yesterday, with heavy fighting in the districts of Saqba and Arbeen, he said.
Col Harmush ‘executed’
Meanwhile, Free Syrian Army colonel Hussein Harmush, a founder of the rebel group made up of army defectors, was executed last week, said the Syrian League for Human Rights, in a report. In June, Harmush became the first Syrian military officer to publicly declare his opposition to the regime’s deadly crackdown. Harmush left Syria seeking exile in Turkey, where he established the Brigade of Free Officers, a group of dozens of deserters later absorbed into the Free Syrian Army. Meanwhile, an “armed terrorist group” in Syria blew up a gas pipeline at dawn yesterday, the state-run media SANA said.