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Syria says Western intelligence talking with Damascus

Jan. 15, 2014 at 6:37 PM   |   Comments

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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Western intelligence agencies are talking to the Assad regime even as their political leaders seek to oust Syria's leader, Syria's deputy foreign minister says.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that while Western politicians are pressuring President Bashar Assad to to step down, intelligence personnel from countries he did not name have been to Damascus to discuss ways to combat radical Islamist groups.

The rise of radical Islamist forces in the Syrian uprising has been troubling to the United States and other Western nations, who don't want to see them gain another foothold in the Middle East.

The Syrian opposition sees the alleged behind-the-scenes links as "a real dilemma," the BBC reported Wednesday.

Word of the intelligence communications comes a week before talks in Geneva, Switzerland, aimed at ending the nearly three-year civil war.

Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, told the BBC such connections "would show a clear contradiction between the words and actions of the Friends of Syria group" who had "clearly identified the Assad regime as a source of terrorism in the region."

The British news network said its informed sources confirmed meetings between Western and Syrian intelligence officials, though the extent of any such contacts was hard to ascertain. The British government said its intelligence operatives are not taking part in any such communications, the BBC said.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights in London Wednesday called for a truce ahead of the Geneva talks and called on international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi join the push for a cease-fire and delivery of humanitarian and medical aid to the hardest-hit regions of Syria.

"We urge Russia, the main partner of Syria regime who used to commit the greatest part of daily violations by shelling with barrel bombs, long-range missiles, besieging dozens of neighborhoods within different Syrian territories, to press Syria on [a] cease-fire, and provide access for humanitarian aids to reach the besieged areas of Yarmouk refugee camp, southern neighborhoods of Damascus, Eastern and Western neighborhoods, and neighborhoods of old city in Homs," the group said in a statement. "On the other hand we urge the active forces that can affect on armed brigades to practice the same role and apply immediately cease-fire, which should continue all days of conference."

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