Friday, November 8, 2013

Russia: Syria Peace talks fade

Russia: Syria opposition refuses to participate in Moscow talks

November 8, 2013 2:19PM ET
Initiative would have been aimed at bolstering prospects for a proposed peace conference in Geneva
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the opportunities for a Geneva peace conference are fading, mostly because the opposition will not "take part without preconditions."
Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images
Syria's main Western-backed opposition group has refused to participate in talks in Moscow with Syrian government officials on resolving the country's humanitarian crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry and opposition figures said Friday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the opposition Syrian National Coalition is "blocking and refusing to participate" in the talks. Russian officials had hoped the talks would bolster prospects for a proposed peace conference the United States and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva.
The coalition has demanded guarantees, including that President Bashar al-Assad step down in any transitional Syrian government, as a condition for going to Geneva.
Damascus has said Assad will stay in his post at least until his term ends in 2014, and that he may run for re-election.
Friday's rejection came a day after Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that the opposition had "responded positively" to a proposal for such talks.
Kamal Labwani, a member of the coalition, told The Associated Press on Friday that the group refused to go to Moscow because "Russia is not a fair mediator and is part of the conflict." He was referring to Moscow's support for the Syrian government, including military aid, since the crisis began in March 2011.
"Russia can become a fair mediator when it orders Assad to leave Syria," Labwani said by telephone from Paris. "When (Russia) wants to support the criminal, it will lose."
The coalition has long called on the international community to help secure aid to civilians, particularly in rebel-held areas blockaded by government forces.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Moscow initiative had "received an active and positive response among a number of opposition group leaders."
However, he said some opposition figures "consider it a counterproductive ploy" and are refusing to participate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that the opportunities for a peace conference in Geneva are fading "primarily because representatives of the opposition aren't ready to take part without preconditions."
"This intransigence and these demands are being asserted by the National Coalition, which claims to be the only representative of the Syrian people, but which doesn't represent even a majority of the opposition groups that are opposing Assad's regime," Lavrov told reporters.
Despite focusing only on the Syrian humanitarian crisis, the proposed Moscow talks would have represented a diplomatic breakthrough, with opposition groups and representatives of the government sitting down at the same table.

Major offensive launched

Meanwhile, the government of Denmark said Friday that Copenhagen is willing to help take chemical weapons out of Syria by sea and provide bodyguards for a key U.N. official there.
The United Nations had unofficially asked whether Denmark could contribute ships to transport the weapons from Syria for destruction, Defense Minister Nicolai Wammen said. He said it is too early to put a number on how many Danish ships and personnel would be involved.
Foreign Aid Minister Christian Friis Bach said there are no plans for the weapons to be destroyed in Denmark.
In Syria, activists said government troops launched a major offensive Friday to recapture the international airport in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city.
The Aleppo Media Center and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops attacked a base protecting the airport, which has been closed for almost a year. Rebels had captured the base in February.
The government advance comes a week after government troops captured the strategic town of Safira, southeast of the Aleppo airport, after weeks of fighting.
The state-run news agency SANA reported that gunmen killed eight people and wounded several others harvesting olives in Khnaifes village in the central province of Hama. SANA said that some 40 "terrorists" attacked the harvesters and kidnapped two women. State media often refer to the rebels as "terrorists."
Syria's civil war has touched off a humanitarian catastrophe across the region. More than 2 million Syrians have sought refuge abroad.
The U.N. said this week that more than 9 million Syrians — out of the country's prewar population of 23 million — are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 120,000 people have been killed, according to the observatory, which closely monitors the fighting there. The U.N. said in July that 100,000 Syrians had been killed in the fighting; it has not updated that figure since.
The Associated

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