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Assad on Syria peace talks: ‘We’re ready to discuss anything, but who will be on other side?’



The problem with the upcoming Syria peace talks is whether “the real opposition” will be represented, Syrian President Bashar Assad told French media, following a visit by French MPs to the liberated city of Aleppo.

Assad said that a Syrian government delegation is ready to leave for the Russian and Turkish-brokered negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan, as soon as is necessary.

“We announced that our delegation to that conference is ready to go when they define… when they set the time of that conference. We are ready to negotiate everything, anything, it’s fully open, there’s no limit for those negotiations.”

However, the question remains over whom they are going to talk to, Assad added.

“But who’s going to be there from the other side? We don’t know yet. Is it going to be the real Syrian opposition – and when I say ‘real’ it means it has grassroots in Syria, not Saudi ones or French ones or British ones – it should be Syrian opposition to discuss Syrian issues. So, the viability or, let’s say, the success of that conference, will depend on that point,” the Syrian president told French media, as cited by the Sana news agency.

Assad was also asked if he would be prepared to relinquish the presidency, should it become necessary.

“My position is related to the constitution, and the constitution is very clear about the mechanism in which you can bring a president or get rid of a president. So, if they want to discuss this point, they have to discuss the constitution, and the constitution should be owned by the Syrian people, so you need a referendum,” the Syrian leader said.

“’If I feel that the Syrian people doesn’t want me [to be president], of course I wouldn’t be,” he concluded.

Asked about apparent shifts in power recently, both across the Atlantic and in Europe, Assad chose to remain cautious.

“We always hope that the next [US] administration [will] want to deal with the reality. [But] what we’ve learned in the last few years is that many officials would say something and do the opposite,” he said.

He added that the mainstream media had attempted to add fuel to the fire, although this had largely “failed in the West” and forced people to “look for the truth.”

“The truth was the main victim of the events in the Middle East, including Syria,” Assad added.

Nevertheless, he remained optimistic about the transition of power in the US.

“The Syrian problem is not isolated, it’s not only Syrian-Syrian; a major part of the Syrian conflict is regional and international. The simplest part that you can deal with is the Syrian-Syrian part, the regional and the international part depends mainly on the relations between the US and Russia.

“If there’s a genuine approach or initiative toward improving the relations between the United States and Russia, that will affect every problem in the world, including Syria. So yes, we think that’s positive,” Assad concluded.

Middle East

Loud explosion heard outside busy hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu

Explosion hits busy road outside popular hotel in central Mogadishu.



Somalia Car Bombing

MOGADISHU: 16 people killed and 20 injured in a bomb attack at the entrance of  Wehliye hotel in Mogadishu. Most of the casualties are auto rickshaw drivers and passengers, according to witnesses.

The death toll is expected to rise.

The attacked was claimed by al-Shabab, Reuters news agency reported, citing the armed group’s military operation spokesman.

Al-Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally recognised government, is frequently carrying out attacks in and around the capital.

More to follow.

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Middle East

Arab Parliament calls for ceasefire in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

The international community to shoulder its responsibilities and to take “urgent, effective and serious steps” on the ground for the protection of Syrian civilians from the daily bombardment, explosives and poisonous gases.



Eastern Ghouta

Cairo, March 17 (IANS/WAM) Arab Parliament President Meshal Al-Selmi has called for an immediate halt to the continued bombing in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus and in the rest of Syria.

In an urgent cable sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, Al-Selmi said that the bombing of the city led to the killing and wounding of hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children.

He said that the siege led to the worsening of conditions, leading to more victims due to the lack of food and medicine available to residents.

Al-Selmi said that the daily bombing of civilian populated areas was a “heinous” crime against humanity and ran counter to the rules of the international humanitarian laws and conventions.

He went on to say that the shelling was “unjustified” and amounted to war crimes, calling on the international community to immediately intervene to stop these crimes from continuing.

The Arab Parliament President urged the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and to take “urgent, effective and serious steps” on the ground for the protection of Syrian civilians from the daily bombardment, explosives and poisonous gases.

He renewed his call to the UN Security Council to implement an immediate ceasefire across Syrian territories and the withdrawal of armed forces of all countries interfering in Syrian domestic affairs.

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Middle East

De Mistura renews UN appeal for Syrian truce



Staffan de Mistura

Geneva, March 2 : The United Nations special envoy to Syria said on Thursday that the world body has and will not give up urging the implementation of its resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in the war-ravaged country.

“We will continue asking until we are red in the face, blue in the face, for both sides… to stop shelling each other’s areas and for convoys to be allowed to get to Eastern Ghouta in particular,” de Mistura told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

“Otherwise this (Eastern Ghouta) becomes a copy of Aleppo,” de Mistura said, referring to the northern Syrian city that became a major flashpoint in the country’s eight-year civil war.

Civilians have been evacuated from the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus for the first time since daily “humanitarian pauses” began on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

More than 580 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since the Syrian government and its allies intensified their bombardments on February 18, according to doctors.

The 393,000 civilians trapped in the enclave, the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus, also face severe shortages of food and medical supplies.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday calling for a 30-day countrywide cease-fire, but it has not come into effect.

The resolution set no firm date for the truce to take effect.

It also excluded attacks on opposition forces identified as terrorists, who make up some of the estimated 580 opposition fighters entrenched in eastern Ghouta.

On Monday, UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, demanded that the ceasefire be brought into effect immediately.

“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It’s high time to stop this hell on earth,” Guterres said at the opening of a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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