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Syria

Syria opposition agrees in principle to attend Geneva peace talks

The Syrian National Coalition has agreed in principle to attend peace talks aimed at ending more than two years of bloodshed. However, it has also set out a series of pre-conditions for its participation.

The statement released by the Syrian National Coalition early on Monday expressing its willingness to attend an international peace conference followed two days of talks in Istanbul.

But the statement also outlined a series of pre-conditions that needed to be met, before it would join peace talks, which the United States and Russia are hoping to convene in Geneva before the end of this year.

It said Coalition representatives would only attend the conference if President Bashar al-Assad's government agrees to allow the creation of human corridors so that relief agencies could gain access to besieged areas. It also demanded that the government release detainees, particularly women and children.

Some rebel groups have also said they would refuse to support a peace conference unless they received assurances that this would result in President Assad's removal from power. Some Islamist rebel brigades have said that if this were not the case, they would seek to charge anyone who did attend the talks with treason.

In light of this, the statement said a committee had been formed to try to convince such rebel groups to get behind the "Geneva 2" conference, as the as yet unscheduled talks have become known in diplomatic circles.

In the past, the National Coalition had said it would not attend any such talks unless Assad had first relinquished power. Monday's statement didn't mention the president by name, but did say that among it other key conditions was that any political conference should result in a political transition in Syria.

"All we can do is hope is that these (Geneva) talks will end with the departure of Bashar al-Assad," Adib Shishakly, a member of the coalition told the Reuters news agency.

According to United Nations estimates, more than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad's regime began more than two years ago with what at first were peaceful protests demanding political reforms. This developed into an all-out armed conflict after security forces sought to put down the unrest by force.

The National Coalition talks were set to continue on Monday, with the appointment of an opposition cabinet high on the agenda.

pfd/av (AP, Reuters)