Syria backs peace talks, but wants list of "terrorist" negotiators

The Syrian government said Saturday that it's prepared to attend UN-sponsored peace talks later this month in Geneva, but wants to see a list of opposition representatives and "terrorists" who will attend, the country's foreign minister said.

Walid al-Moallem expressed "Syria's readiness to participate" in the talks to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, according to Syria's official news agency SANA.

"Syria stressed the need to get a list of terrorist organizations and a list of the names of the Syrian opposition figures, who will participate in the Geneva talks," the foreign minister was quoting as saying at a meeting in Damascus.

The Syrian government has repeatedly described as "terrorists" the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

De Mistrura arrived in Damascus on Friday to discuss preparations for the Geneva negotiations scheduled for January 25 between representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition. 

He will also visit Iran, a major ally of al-Assad, for talks on the Geneva gathering, UN sources said.

The Syrian opposition has said it is ready to attend the negotiations, but insists that al-Assad have no role in the transitional process.

Last month, the UN Security Council endorsed a road map for Syria's peace process, including negotiations, a ceasefire and elections.

But the UN resolution did not mention who would represent the opposition at the peace talks or al-Assad's fate.

Russia and Iran, al-Assad's main allies, refuse any agreement that would force him to step down, while the United States and other countries backing the rebels want him out of power.

Major powers have in recent months stepped up their efforts to reach a political solution to Syria's conflict, which is estimated to have claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Militant rebels, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, have taken advantage of Syria's anarchy to expand in the country.

A US-led coalition and Russia separately mount air campaigns against extremists in Syria.

On Saturday, a Russian jet struck a courthouse run by al-Nusra Front in north-western Syria, killing at least 10 people, a monitoring group reported.

Dozens were also injured in the bombardment against the courthouse that houses a prison in the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Most of the dead were members from al-Nusra Front and prisoners, the Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman told dpa.

He added the casualties also included civilians because the court building is located near a public market.

Idlib is mainly controlled by Islamist rebels led by al-Nusra Front.

Last update: Sat, 09/01/2016 - 16:39

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