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Middle East

Syrian PM says Assad ready for peace talks

Wael al-Halaqi says government would respond to any initiative to solve crisis, amid reports of violence around capital.
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2012 22:41
The crisis in Syria that began in March 2011 has claimed an estimated 45,000 lives [Reuters]

Syria's government has welcomed any initiative for talks to end bloodshed in the country, after UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said he had a peace plan acceptable to world powers.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi told parliament on Monday that the conflict must be resolved only by the Syrian people, "without external pressures or decrees".

"The government is working to support the national reconciliation project and will respond to any regional or international initiative that would solve the current crisis through dialogue and peaceful means and prevent foreign intervention in Syria's internal affairs," he said.

The country, he said, was "moving toward a historic moment when it will declare victory over its enemies, with the goal of positioning Syria to build a new world order that promotes national sovereignty and the concept of international law".

Meanwhile, Syria's state news agency said a "terrorist group'' blew up a natural gas pipeline in the country's oil-rich east, about 30km north of Deir Ezzor, and caused the loss of around 1.5 million cubic metres of gas.

Regime officials and state media have long categorised activists and armed rebels alike as enemies or "terrorists" funded by Gulf rivals Qatar and Saudi Arabia, former ally Turkey and the West.

Brahimi said on Sunday he had crafted a ceasefire plan "that could be adopted by the international community", but was rejected by the opposition, which insists on President Bashar al-Assad's departure before any dialogue can take place.

Tortured bodies found

Activists say more than 45,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

Even though Syrian rebels now hold vast swathes of territory and have struck the heart of Damascus, the regime has so far stood firm despite Western predictions of its imminent fall.

On Monday, dozens of tortured bodies were found in a flashpoint district of the capital, a watchdog reported, in one of the worst atrocities in Syria's 21-month conflict.

"Thirty bodies were found in the Barzeh district. They bore signs of torture and have so far not been identified," said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The reports came as a gruesome video emerged on the internet of a separate slaying of three children who had their throats slashed in Jobar district, also in Damascus.

Opposition activists said the children had been kidnapped the day before at a checkpoint on their way home from school.

These reports could not be verified independently because of media restrictions by the Syrian authorities.

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Regime warplanes, meanwhile, bombarded rebel positions on the northeastern and southwestern outskirts of Damascus, leaving eight civilians dead including two children, activists said.

Southwest of the capital, fierce fighting erupted in the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham with 11 rebels killed in clashes and a child killed in shelling.

In neighbouring Daraya, rebels destroyed a tank as army reinforcements massed in the battleground town, where more than 500 people were reportedly killed in the conflict's bloodiest massacre in August.

In the north, eight civilians, four of them children, were killed in shelling in the Marjeh district of Syria's second city Aleppo.

Syrian television reported the army was "clearing Aleppo of terrorists".

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Source:
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