Syrian official says talks will begin by end of year

Oct. 17, 2013 at 4:04 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- The "Geneva-2" conference to resolve Syria's civil war will be held by the end of the year, likely in November, a Syrian official said Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said Thursday at a news conference in Moscow the so-called Geneva-2 conference will go ahead as planned despite reluctance of leading Syrian opposition groups to participate, RIA Novosti reported.

Jamil added he expects the conference to convene on or around Nov. 23.

The announcement Thursday comes over five months after the United States and Russia said they would attempt to bring the warring parties to the conference table to implement a peace plan they endorsed in 2012, at what has become known as Geneva-1, CNN said.

The conference, backed by Russia and the United States, is meant to bring together leaders from the Syrian government and the opposition to try to end the civil war that began as a peaceful anti-government protest in March 2012. The United Nations estimates at least 100,000 people have died so far.

Prospects for the conference had dimmed in recent weeks, with some representatives of Syria's fractured opposition voicing reluctance to attend, including representatives of the insurgent groups, as well as the Syrian National Council, the core of the opposition's the internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition, RIA Novosti said.

"The Syrian National Council's refusal to participate in the Geneva-2 would not affect the time frame and format of the conference," Jamil said. "They will likely change their decision.

Also during the news conference, Jamil denied speculation that Syrian chemical weapons were being shipped elsewhere for disposal.

"Everything is being destroyed on site," he said.

Syria's chemical weapon arsenal is to be destroyed by mid-2014 by a U.N.-led international mission in a U.S.-Russia brokered agreement following an Aug. 21 gas attack in a suburb of Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied accusations from Western countries that Syrian government forces were responsible for the attack, which killed hundreds of people.

In Syria, British broadcaster Sky News reported that its Arabia crew has gone missing in Syria while on assignment near Aleppo.

Sky News Arabia said reporter Ishak Moctar, a Mauritanian national, cameraman Samir Kassab, a Lebanese citizen, and their Syrian driver have been missing since Tuesday.

Sky News Arabia, based in Abu Dhabi, has asked for information that would lead to the crew's safe return.

Carl Campeau, a Canadian citizen and United Nations worker, was released Thursday after he was abducted in February by "terrorists," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said.

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