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Bashar al Assad tells envoy Syrians will decide on peace talks

October 31, 2013 at 1:02 am | News Desk

Assad tells envoy Syrians will decide on peace talks Damascus: President Bashar al-Assad insisted in a meeting Wednesday with visiting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that Syrians alone will decide on the fate of an initiative for Geneva peace talks.

The encounter came a day after the Red Crescent evacuated hundreds of civilians from a besieged town near Damascus, in an operation that saw rare cooperation among the regime, its opponents and the international community.

Brahimi has been travelling the Middle East to muster support for proposed peace talks dubbed Geneva II.

The Syrian leg of the tour is the most sensitive, as the veteran Algerian diplomat needs to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend.

During his last visit to Damascus in December, Brahimi was heavily criticised in the Syrian media for asking Assad if he intended to step down at the end of his presidential term in mid-2014.

Wednesday’s meeting with Assad lasted less than one hour, and the president flatly rejected attending the Geneva talks.

“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi.

Assad tells envoy Syrians will decide on peace talks “Putting an end to support for the terrorists and pressuring the states that support them is the most important step to prepare… for dialogue,” he said, using his regime’s term for rebels.

“The success of any political solution is linked to putting an end to support funnelled to terrorist groups.”

State television reported that Brahimi agreed with Assad that Syrians themselves need to find a solution to the conflict that has been ravaging the country since March 2011.

“The efforts being made for the Geneva conference to be held are focused on finding the way for the Syrians themselves to meet and to agree on solving the crisis as quickly as possible,” Brahimi was quoted as saying.

In an interview this month, Assad cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.

The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and some rebel groups have warned participants will be considered traitors.

Assad tells envoy Syrians will decide on peace talks Key Damascus backer Moscow blasted critics of the talks, warning that toppling Assad militarily posed a “huge threat” to the region.

“Open objections have surfaced against holding this Russia-US meeting, not only among Syrian sides but also among capitals, both in neighbouring and non-neighbouring states,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Athens.

“We must not allow this initiative to fizzle out,” he added, arguing that overthrowing Assad’s regime through military means would create an “extremist” state.

More than 115,000 people have been killed in the 31-month armed uprising against the Assad regime triggered by his forces’ bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.

Thousands still trapped in besieged town

The devastating war has also triggered a massive humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced internally and more than two million who fled the spiralling violence.

On Tuesday some 800 women, children and elderly civilians were evacuated from Moadamiyet al-Sham, said Wassim al-Ahmad of the council in the town southwest of Damascus.

But Ahmad said that around 6,000 civilians remained trapped.

Television footage showed the evacuees clutching a few personal belongings as they streamed out of the town along a dusty road, with Red Crescent staff carrying an elderly man and assisting another too frail to walk.

“All sides, without exception, took part (in the evacuation), including the opposition as represented by the National Coalition, the regime… and the international community,” an opposition activist said.

Widespread malnutrition has been reported in Moadamiyet al-Sham, especially among children, because of an almost year-long army siege that has blockaded the entry of food and other vital goods.

Moadamiyet al-Sham was the scene of one of a sarin gas attack in August that killed hundreds of people.

The World Health Organisation meanwhile confirmed 10 polio cases in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor, all of them in children under the age of two.

On the ground violence as six people were killed in army shelling of southern Damascus and 11 others in a rebel attack in central Syria, a monitoring group said.

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