Syrian official: Ready to talk to rebels

Feb. 25, 2013 at 10:26 PM
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MOSCOW, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Syrian leaders are ready to talk to all opposition factions, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in a Moscow meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Al-Muallem said Monday government leaders believe reforms "can be reached through dialogue alone" and were prepared to include armed rebels in discussions, Voice of Russia reported.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talked with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib Monday to discuss a Friends of the Syrian People session set for Thursday in Rome. The White House said in a statement Biden welcomed al-Khatib's confirmation that coalition members would attend and meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The White House said Biden said the meeting would be a key opportunity for the coalition to tell its side of the civil war to the international community and discuss ways to speed assistance to the opposition.

Syria has been in a civil war following what began as peaceful demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad nearly two years ago. Russia and China, both with trade ties to Syria, blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to impose sanctions against the Assad regime.

Al-Muallem said militants of Jabhat-al Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate, were primarily responsible for the bloodshed, Voice of Russia said.

"Jabhad an-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaida, is the main force fighting in Syria," al-Muallem said.

Lavrov said political leaders consider dialogue as the only way to emerge from the crisis.

"There can be no alternative to a peace settlement in Syria," he said.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it had documented 90 deaths in the Syria Monday, including seven children and 15 women. The London group's figures were not confirmed independently.

Syrian-run media reported Syrian actor Yasin Baqqoush was killed Sunday when his vehicle was struck by mortar fire in Damascus. He was 75 years old.

Baqqoush, who starred in movies and historical series on television, was best known for his comedic performances with actor Dureid Lahham and the late Nihad Qal'ei, reports said.

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