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Syria

Syria opposition chief appeals in Munich for action

The leader of the Syrian National Coalition has called on the international community to intervene. Moaz al-Khatib has also reiterated his offer to negotiate with the regime of President Bashar Assad.

In an address to the 49th annual Munich Security Conference on Friday, Khatib (left in photo) called on the international community to intervene militarily in Syria's two-year civil war, while he at the same time offered direct negotiations with Damascus in exchange for a prisoner release.

'"As a gesture of goodwill ... we are ready to sit at the negotiating table with the regime, but we don't want their hands to be full of blood," Khatib said through an interpreter at the conference in Munich.

The Sunni preacher originally made the offer to negotiate with the Assad regime on Wednesday, saying he would do whatever it took to ease the suffering of the Syrian people. But the apparent olive branch - a major break with the opposition's uncompromising campaign against Assad - caused uproar within the Syrian National Coalition. The umbrella opposition group subsequently said that Assad's departure from power was a precondition for a negotiated settlement.

During his address, Khatib then called for the US and other governments to provide the rebels with "some kind of electronic interference" to prevent regime warplanes from bombing the Syrian people. He then demanded a full-blown military intervention if such equipment failed to stop the air raids.

"If that doesn't work, I would demand to destroy the planes and weapons of the Syrian regime, because it's just not acceptable for the international community to be a bystander just watching what's happening to the Syrian people."

Brahimi pessimistic on Syria

This weekend's Munich Security Conference offers the rare opportunity for world leaders and defense officials to discuss the Syrian civil war. Khatib is scheduled to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the conference, while Biden plans to meet with UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Despite the opportunity for renewed dialogue, Brahimi remained pessimistic about the prospects for a negotiated settlement.

"I am much more conscious of the difficulties of the country being broken down day after day, than I am of a solution," he said, speaking at a panel alongside Khatib in Munich.

US concerns about weapons proliferation

Meanwhile, US officials have expressed growing concern about the impact of Syria's civil war on the broader Middle East. Two days after an alleged airstrike by Israeli warplanes on a supposed weapons convoy in Syria, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Washington was worried about weapons proliferation in the region.

"The chaos in Syria has obviously created an environment where the possibility of these weapons, you know, going across the border and falling into the hands of Hezbollah has become a greater concern," Panetta told the AFP news agency in an interview.

The alleged strike, which Israel has neither confirmed nor denied, reportedly targeted anti-aircraft weapons destined for Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, according to US sources.

"We have expressed concern that we have to do everything we can to make sure that sophisticated weapons like SA-17 missiles, or for that matter chemical (and) biological weapons in Syria, do not fall into the hands of terrorists," Panetta added.

On Thursday, departing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters there were signs that Iran was ratcheting up its support for the Assad regime.

"I personally have been warning for quite some time of the dangers associated with an increasingly lethal civil war and a potential proxy war," Clinton said.

slk/jlw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)