Syria opposition open key talks in Istanbul

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BY AFP

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ISTANBUL: Syria’s main opposition National Coalition opened a fresh round of talks in Istanbul on Thursday, where dissidents will discuss a US-Russian proposal to bring rebels and regime officials to the negotiating table.

During their three-day meeting, the coalition is also expected to choose a new president, discuss expansion to include new members and decide the fate of an interim rebel government, opposition members said.

The meeting comes as rebels face a massive onslaught by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah in insurgent bastion Qusayr in central Syria.

“There is a condition that Assad resigns” under the US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2, coalition member Salem al-Moslet said on the conference sidelines.

However, he added that the issue was not on the agenda for Thursday.

“But what is clear is, should the opposition’s condition not be met, then I think we should call it the Lavrov conference,” he said—a reference to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a key Assad ally.

The meeting starts a day after backers of the anti-Assad uprising gathered in Jordan to push for peace in Syria, where more than 90,000 people have been killed in a spiraling conflict that broke out in March 2011.

The meeting included US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague.

In their closing statement early on Thursday, the Friends of Syria group told Assad to commit to peace, warning that they would boost their backing of the opposition if he failed to negotiate a political transition.

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