Car bomb that kills 39 adds urgency to US-Russia sponsored peace conference

US secretary of state emphasises need for transition administration to end hostilities

A car bomb that killed 39 in northern Syria yesterday added urgency to the declaration by US secretary of state John Kerry and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that the US and Russian sponsored international conference to end the bloodshed must be held in Geneva by mid-November.

Mr Kerry, speaking following a meeting with Mr Brahimi in London, said there needed to be a transition government in Syria to permit the possibility of peace. “We believe that President [Bashar al-Assad] has lost the legitimacy necessary to be a cohesive force that could bring people together.”

Mr Brahimi said he would travel to the region this week to see representatives of all sides and agree to the conference date. “There can be, there will be, a political solution if everyone gets together and works for it,” he said.

However, the expatriate opposition Syrian National Coalition, the largest constituent of the western- and Gulf-backed opposition National Coalition, has said it will not attend the conference and will withdraw from the coalition if it agrees to participate.

In response, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov urged the US and its allies to ensure opposition participation in the conference. "The main obstacle . . . remains our partners' inability to make the Syrian opposition, which they are looking after, go to Geneva and sit at the negotiating table with the government."

He claimed that the opposition was disintegrating.

Al-Qaeda affiliate

The bombing in Idlib province took place in the rebel Free Syrian Army-controlled town of Darkush near the Turkish border and followed the deaths of 44 in clashes between al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and a rival group made up of Turkish and Chechen militants. Disputes are increasing among armed opposition factions.

Three kidnapped staff members and a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were released as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) pledged it would continue operations to provide food and medical aid to civilians in need throughout Syria.

Three other ICRC workers remained in the hands of fighters, believed to be al-Qaeda affiliates, who seized the team as it left government-controlled Idlib city escorted by fighters of the rebel Free Syrian army who were soon released.

In Damascus, the Red Crescent evacuated at least 3,500 civilians from the besieged rebel-controlled suburb of Muadamiya in the first formal two-day ceasefire of the conflict. Most of the evacuees were women and children.

Opposition fighters based in Muadamiya have fired mortars and missiles into the centre of Damascus and at nearby Mezze military airport. Most inhabitants of the suburb fled more than a year ago.