• Syria regime, opponents dig in ahead of talks


    DAMASCUS: Damascus vowed to keep fighting “terrorism” and the opposition insisted President Bashar al-Assad must go, as both sides dug in on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) after a date for long-planned peace talks was set.

    The Geneva peace conference scheduled for January 22 is aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old civil war, a bloody stalemate which has killed an estimated 120,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

    But the opposition National Coalition, an umbrella group increasingly at odds with rebels on the ground, has insisted Assad have no role in the country’s future, a demand long rejected by Damascus, casting doubt on whether a middle ground can be found. The fighting has meanwhile shown no signs of abating, with a car bomb killing 15 people at a bus stop west of Damascus on Tuesday and battles heating up on key fronts east and north of the capital.

    Iran—a key ally of the Syrian regime which penned a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers on Sunday—said Tuesday it was ready to take part in the so-called Geneva II conference, but would not accept any preconditions.

    A day after the United Nations announced the date of the talks, the Coalition affirmed its “absolute rejection of Assad or any of the criminals responsible for killing the Syrian people playing any role in a transitional body . . . or in Syria’s political future.”



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