U.N. urges Syria on talks with rebels

Feb. 17, 2013 at 7:42 PM
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CAIRO, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A U.N. diplomat Sunday urged the Syrian government to accept an offer by rebels to hold talks on ending the nearly two year-long civil war.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, told a news conference in Cairo the offer by opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib -- which has been endorsed by other members of the opposition -- "challenges the Syrian government to fulfill its often-repeated assertion that it is ready for dialogue and a peaceful settlement," The New York Times reported.

Khatib, the head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, initially drew criticism from members of the coalition, who said the offer had been made without their input. The coalition said Friday it still ruled out talks with President Bashar Assad or his top security officials, but it was open to negotiating with other Syrians, including government officials, provided "they did not participate in any crimes."

Opposition forces in Syria blame the Assad regime for nearly 70,000 deaths in the rebellion, which broke out in March 2011.

The Syrian human rights activists said 73 people were killed across Syria in violence Sunday, including 21 in and around Damascus, 14 in Hama, seven in Deir Alzour, six in Daraa, four in Idlib, three in Homs and one in Tartous.

Rebels in Aleppo Sunday carried out attacks on the international airport and two military airports, and activists said government forces had fired ballistic missiles overnight Saturday toward areas in the northern provinces where rebels are gaining ground, the Times reported.

Electrical service has been partially restored in Damascus, following a blackout that affected several other parts of the country. Syrian officials said rebel attacks on the nation's infrastructure are "growing increasingly frequent and more systematic," and only 50 percent to 60 percent of Syria's electricity demand is being met.

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