02/05/2013, 00.00
SYRIA
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Opposition leader calls for talks with Assad

Concerned about the increasing loss of life, Syrian National Coalition chief Moaz al-Khatib wants to meet Syrian Vice President al-Shaara. Iran and Russia praise the initiative, but his personal initiative does not reflect opposition views. Some Assad opponents slam as a traitor.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Syria's deteriorating humanitarian situation has led some anti-Assad leaders to seek talks with the regime. Moaz al-Khatib, who chairs the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has called on the president to start a dialogue to stop the carnage underway in the country. As a condition for talks, he has called for the release of 160,000 rebels held in government prisons.

"The ball is now in the regime's court. They will either say yes or no," Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib told pan-Arab channel al-Jazeera. Now he has to wait for an answer, but he has already picked his counterpart, Syrian Vice President Farouq al- Sharaa

The latter is the only leader of the regime whose hands are not "stained with blood", Khatib said. Together with other government officials, he has apparently opposed the president's bloody crackdown.

Khatib's proposal however has not met with wide support in the Syrian National Coalition. In fact, if the regime does respond positively to the opening, the latter opposition would have to patch its differences.

In the meantime, Syrian authorities continue their propaganda. In a statement, Defence Minister Fahed al- Freij said that Syria was not afraid of Israeli attacks or international threats, insisting that the rebels would be defeated.

Until now, the SNC has demanded the president's resignation as a precondition to talks. Last month, Assad had himself suggested a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but rejected talks with the SNC, which the president accused of cooperating with Islamists who want to overthrow the regime.

As a broad coalition of anti-regime parties and movements, the SNC is internationally recognised. However, it has no control over the armed militias, above all the al-Nusra Front, which, like government forces, has carried out several massacres in 22 months of war.

Some opposition figures have already slammed Khatib's proposal as treasonous, but he has rejected the criticism, saying "Our people are dying, and we will not allow that."

Although the regime has not yet responded to the proposal, its main international backers, Russia and Iran, have said that Khatib's proposal was "encouraging," especially in light of the danger of the conflict's internationalisation following recent Israeli raids in Damascus.

For Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "realism has prevailed," adding however that "this does not guarantee that a dialogue will begin".

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called Khatib's initiative "a good step forward," but reiterated Tehran's support for the Syrian regime.

The war continues instead unabated. According to UN sources, more than 60,000 people have been killed so far. And, increasingly, the fighting is getting more lethal.

Around Aleppo, the confrontation between rebel and government forces has intensified, and the UNESCO-protected historic city now lies in ruins. Just this past Saturday, the army levelled a rebel-held historic building in the city's Ansari district, killing nine.

Islamist militias also continue to execute summarily people they suspect of being pro-government. The latest victim is Ibrahim Azooz, a former member of parliament for Aleppo, who was killed along with his wife and two daughters.

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