Syrian regime ready to attend Geneva peace talks upon banning “terrorists”
Foreign minister reportedly announced willingness to participate in Geneva talks at meeting with UN envoy
The Syrian government has announced it is ready to attend peace talks with the opposition in Geneva this month as a new airstrike in northern Syria killed and wounded scores of people, including many militants.
But the foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Damascus wanted to see lists of the opposition groups who were due to attend and ensure that “terrorist” groups would not be represented.
State news agency Sana said Moallem made his comments on Saturday while meeting the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, in Damascus.
Shortly after, an airstrike hit the north-western town of Maaret al-Numan. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 57 people were killed, including many fighters from al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, as well as detainees. The human rights group identified the jets that carried out the airstrike as Russian. The dead included 23 members of the Nusra Front, three women and at least one child.
The human rights group said the targeted area included a jail and a courthouse run by Nusra Front. The warplanes fired four missiles that hit the Islamic court, which includes a jail, as well as a road linking the court with a market.
De Mistura’s UN mission took him to Beirut later on Saturday, after which he boarded a plane to Qatar. He arrived in Syria on Friday after meetings earlier in the week with Syrian opposition officials in Saudi Arabia, a main backer of some of the rebel groups trying to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
De Mistura’s office described his meeting with Moallem as useful and said he was “looking forward to the active participation of all relevant parties” in the talks.
The Syrian government refers to all those fighting to overthrow Assad as terrorists and has said the talks should focus on battling terrorism. The opposition wants Assad to step down as part of any peace deal.
The UN is urging the two sides to meet on 25 January in an effort to end the conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 250,000 people and caused a massive refugee crisis.
Conferences in Geneva in 2014 failed to bring about a settlement, though this round is seen as particularly urgent after the UN security council passed a resolution last month endorsing a transitional plan for Syria.
The Syrian opposition is demanding some gestures by the government before the talks, including lifting sieges imposed on rebel-held areas, releasing some detainees and ending airstrikes.
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