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Syria

Friends of Syria urge opposition to attend Geneva talks

Syria's opposition bloc faces increased pressure to attend fast-approaching peace talks with the Syrian regime. A pro-opposition group has urged it to negotiate with al-Assad, saying there's no other political solution.

The Friends of Syria - diplomats from 11 Western and Gulf Arab nations - met in Paris on Sunday to discuss upcoming peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war. Syrian opposition groups have not decided yet whether they will attend, casting doubt over whether the long-delayed conference - dubbed Geneva II - will finally take place. The pro-opposition group stressed on Sunday the necessity of attendance from both sides in order to end the armed conflict.

"There is no other political solution," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was also among the representatives from the 11-nation pro-opposition group in Paris on Sunday.

"I know that this isn't an easy decision for the Syrian opposition," Steinmeier (pictured left) said, adding that it wouldn't be "sensible" to delay negotiations.

The Syrian National Coalition, which encompasses a variety of opposition groups, has delayed voting on the issue until January 17, less than a week before the conference is set to begin. One of the bloc's main groups - the Syrian National Council - has already refused to attend, citing the West's failure to put enough pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

The United States, France, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia, as well SNC leader Ahmad al-Jarba were also in attendance on Sunday.

Al-Assad won't have future

SNC leader Al-Jarba did not signal whether the Syrian opposition would attend, but did say the group had agreed that al-Assad would not have a future in a political agreement.

"We have passed a milestone on the way to the end of the regime," al-Jarba told reporters. "There is clear consensus for power transfer."

Over 100,000 people have lost their lives in Syria since fighting broke out between the al-Assad regime and opposition fighters in March 2011. The armed conflict has led to the internal displacement of several million people and has forced over two million refugees into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel. The United Nations halted its death toll records for Syria in early January, saying it could not longer verify its sources.

The peace conference is to be held on January 22 in the Swiss city of Montreux, located on the eastern edge of Lake Geneva.

kms/dr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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