Respond to talks offer,opposition urges Assad

Published — Tuesday 5 February 2013

Last update 5 February 2013 3:18 am

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DAMASCUS: Syria’s opposition chief extended a hand yesterday to President Bashar Assad’s regime but said it was now up to Damascus to take the next step toward dialogue between the country’s warring parties.
Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib’s comments to pan-Arab channel Al-Jazeera came as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Tehran would continue talks with the Syrian opposition following a preliminary meeting at the weekend.
“The ball is now in the regime’s court. They will either say yes or no,” Khatib said yesterday, following up on his surprise announcement last week that he was ready to meet regime officials provided the authorities release “160,000 detainees” and renew passports for Syrians stranded outside the country.
“I say to Bashar Assad: Look into the eyes of your children and try to find a solution ... We can help each other in the interest” of the people, the head of the National Coalition opposition grouping said. “The regime needs to take a clear position. We will extend our hands for the sake of the people, and in order to help the regime leave in peace,” he said.
Khatib’s statement last week on negotiations with conditions attached was backed by the Coalition, a grouping of externally based opposition groups, but only if they led to the fall of the regime.
While some opposition figures immediately denounced Khatib’s proposal as traitorous, he said yesterday he “rejected” the label. “Our people are dying, and we will not allow that,” Khatib said.
Khatib had on Sunday held talks with Salehi at a security conference in the southern German city of Munich, which the Iranian foreign minister yesterday said were to be continued. “We had 45 (minutes) to an hour discussion which was very fruitful... and we committed ourselves to continue this discussion,” Salehi told a foreign-policy think-tank in Berlin.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities announced the release of two Russians and an Italian citizen kidnapped by Syrian “extremists” last year in Syria. They were “released in exchange for militants,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
On the ground in Syria, fierce battles raged in flashpoints across the country, including Aleppo and Raqa in the north, as well as in Damascus province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, Iran told Israel yesterday it would regret its airstrike against Syria last week, without spelling out whether Iran or its ally planned any military response. “They will regret this recent aggression,” Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told a news conference in Damascus a day after holding talks there with Bashar Assad. “Today, too, both the people and the government of Syria are serious regarding the issue. And also the Islamic community is supporting Syria,” he said.
Jalili said Iran, in its current role as head of the Non-Aligned Movement, would work on Syria’s behalf on the international stage in response to the attack.
Meanwhile, the bishop of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo yesterday urged the international community to pay greater attention to the fate of Syria’s Christian minority, saying they were being terrorized by a spate of kidnappings for money.
“Aleppo has been living in terror and anguish for seven months,” Antoine Audo of the Chaldean Church, who also heads the Syrian branch of the Catholic charity Caritas, said.

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