Witnesses report Damascus suburb shelled by brutal military explosive designed to decimate urban areas.
The umbrella group for Syrian opposition parties has said it has reversed a decision to boycott a conference in Rome being held to help drum up financial and political support for the opposition.
Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said on Monday the move came after a phone call between the group’s leader, Mouaz al-Khatib, and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry said: “I want our friends in the Syrian opposition council to know that we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We are coming to Rome to make a decision on next steps.”
Kerry made the comments after talks with his British counterpart William Hague in London.
Khatib said on his Facebook page his group would go after Kerry and Hague “promised specific aid to alleviate the suffering of our people”.
Bunni said the decision was made based on guarantees al-Khatib heard from western diplomats that the conference would be different this time. The boycott had put the group at odds with its Western backers.
For his part, Syria’s foreign minister has said that his government is ready to hold talks with all parties, including armed rebels who want dialogue to end the conflict.
Walid al-Muallem made the comments on Monday in Moscow before talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms,” Muallem said, in an apparent reference to the rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We still believe in a peaceful solution to the Syrian problem,” said Muallem, pointing to the creation of a government coalition that would negotiate with both the “external and internal opposition”.
Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela, reporting from Moscow, said that the minister’s comments were “encouraging” because they came before the talks began.
“Here in Moscow, it is going to be seen as quite an achievement, especially after the disappointment that the Syria’s opposition [leader] Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib rejected an invitation for talks,” she said.
Lavrov said alongside Muallem that there was no alternative to a political solution to the two-year conflict agreed through talks.
“There is no acceptable alternative to a political solution achieved through agreeing positions of the government and the opposition,” said Lavrov.
“We are for Syria to be independent, united, and for all Syrian citizens, regardless of their religion, to live freely in peace and democracy.
“The Syrian people should decide their fate without external intervention,” said Lavrov.
Lavrov said the situation in Syria was “at the crossroads” but expressed optimism that a negotiated solution could be found.
“There are those who have embarked on a course of further bloodshed that risks the collapse of the state and society,” he said.
“But there are also sensible forces who are increasingly aware of the necessity to begin the talks as soon as possible to reach a political settlement.
“The number of supporters of such a realistic line is growing.”
Lavrov had said last week there were positive signs from both sides that they were willing to talk peace but called on the regime of Assad to turn oft-stated words about its readiness for dialogue into deeds.
The UN estimates 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011.
Fighting has intensified in the last days as both sides press for the military advantage.
Russia has also been working on agreeing a trip to Moscow, possibly in early March, by Khatib.
But the rebels have now pulled out of talks with foreign powers in protest at the international community’s inability to halt the bloodshed.