Conference to settle Syrian conflict planned by US and Russia

Syria wants details of conference before deciding whether to participate

US secretary of state John Kerry: “I keep hearing some people suggest somehow that the process is moving away, not closer. I just don’t agree with that – enormous plans are being laid.” Photograph:  Reuters/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix Sweden

US secretary of state John Kerry: “I keep hearing some people suggest somehow that the process is moving away, not closer. I just don’t agree with that – enormous plans are being laid.” Photograph: Reuters/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix Sweden

Wed, May 15, 2013, 01:00

The United States expects a peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow aimed at seeking an end to Syria’s civil war to take place in early June, according to secretary of state John Kerry.

Denying reports that Syria would not participate in the proposed conference, Mr Kerry said the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, had given Russia the names of officials who would attend.

Mr Kerry and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said they hoped to hold the conference within a month under the aegis of the United Nations.

“I keep hearing some people suggest somehow that the process is moving away, not closer,” said Mr Kerry during a press conference with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. “I just don’t agree with that – enormous plans are being laid.”

Syria wanted specific details on the conference before the country decided whether to participate, Assad’s information minister, Omran Zoabi, said.


Test of rhetoric
“If he decides not to come to the table, it would be another one of President Assad’s gross miscalculations,” said Mr Kerry at the meeting of eight countries. “The world will see how empty his rhetoric is, as well as his intent.”

The US is seeking a diplomatic solution to the two-year conflict in Syria, which has cost between 94,000 and 120,000 lives and threatens to spill over into a regional war drawing in neighbouring countries.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which published the death toll estimate yesterday, said that at least 41,000 of those confirmed killed were Alawites, the sect of President Assad.

Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the observatory, said the Alawite death figures were confirmed by eight different Alawite sources.

The savagery of the conflict was evident in a video apparently showing rebel commander Abu Sakkar of the Farouq Brigade cutting organs out of a dead soldier, addressing the camera as he ripped the flesh: “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers.”

The incident filmed on Sunday prompted global condemnation yesterday.

Meanwhile, rebels including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front counterattacked east of Damascus yesterday to retake a town that served as a conduit for arms from Jordan into the capital before it was seized by government forces last month, rebel sources said.

In a rare move, brigades operating in Ghouta, an agricultural region on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, have united under one command to wrest back the town of Otaiba.


Looming battle
“This is a huge target no brigade can deliver on its own, even al-Nusra cannot do it alone, so we all agreed to unite to retake it,” said a commander whose brigade is one of the 23 taking part in the battle. “With God’s will this will be a decisive battle in rural Damascus that will stop the advance of the regime army and reopen the supply route.”

Brigades from the western-backed rebel General Command and Islamist units joined forces over the weekend and pledged to share weapons and fighters.

“We are fighting for the same goal and that is to topple Assad – so why shouldn’t we unite?” said a commander from an Islamist brigade involved in the battle.

Government forces have regained the initiative in the past few weeks, pushing rebels from areas close to Damascus. – (Additional reporting by Reuters)