Syria’s Assad Ready to Meet Opposition as Rebels Seize Base

Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013 09:42 AM

 

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Syria’s government signaled it’s ready to hold talks with the opposition Syrian National Coalition as rebel forces seized a dam and an airport and pressed their attack across the country.

Ali Haidar, Syria’s minister for national reconciliation, is willing to meet Moaz al-Khatib “in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue,” the British-based Guardian newspaper cited Haidar as saying.

Four days earlier, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said the government would hold talks if the opposition abandons weapons and sets no pre-conditions.

Al-Khatib renewed his offer of dialogue Monday with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying he’s prepared to hold the meetings in rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Talks should focus on finding a way for Assad to leave power to prevent “more death and destruction,” al-Khatib said on his Facebook page.

More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict that started in March 2011, according to the United Nations, as forces loyal to Assad fight rebels who are seeking an end to his family’s rule. Electricity rationing has worsened as the fighting disrupts supplies and prevents repairs to damaged infrastructure, while fuel is also in short supply.

Al-Khatib said earlier this month that he was open to a dialogue with members of Assad’s government subject to conditions, including the release of 160,000 detainees.

He said at the time he was ready to meet Assad’s deputy, Farouk al- Shara, because since the start of the crisis he “has seen that things were going in the wrong direction.”

Airport Captured

More than 3,000 Syrian refugees cross into Jordan every day, the World Health Organization said in e-mailed statement. Shortage of medicines is becoming critical, the WHO said.

Rebels including the Islamist Al-Nusra Front Monday captured the Jarah military airport in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an email Tuesday. The rebels captured 40 government soldiers and seized heavy machine- guns and ammunition at base, the group said.

Video footage posted on YouTube showed hangars containing several jet fighters. The authenticity of the video couldn’t be verified. The British-based opposition group said Monday that the rebels took control of the al-Furat Dam on the Euphrates.

Attacks against the power infrastructure have cost the Syrian economy 218 billion pounds ($3.1 billion), the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing Electricity Minister Imad Khamis. Fighting has killed 81 workers in the electricity industry, while 175 have been injured, it said.

An explosion on a minibus with a Syrian license plate killed 14 people at a Turkish border crossing with Syria Monday, according to Turkish state television. The blast occurred at the Cilvegozu border point in an area where humanitarian aid supplies were distributed, it said.

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