x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Syrian opposition leader urges Assad to 'step aside peacefully'

Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Al Khatib urges country's president to negotiate peaceful end to 22-month civil war.

Saeed Jalili, Head of the Iranian National Security Council, said Israel ‘would regret’ its recent aggression on Syrian soil.
Saeed Jalili, Head of the Iranian National Security Council, said Israel ‘would regret’ its recent aggression on Syrian soil.

BEIRUT //The leader of Syria's main opposition coalition yesterday called on president Bashar Al Assad to respond to a proposal for talks between the regime and its opponents.

Moaz Al Khatib, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, said the proposed dialogue would be aimed at allowing the regime to step aside "peacefully" and to end Syria's deadly 22-month civil war, a plan that has revived hopes of a negotiated settlement.

"The regime must take a clear stand [on dialogue] and we say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully," Mr Al Khatib told the Al Jazeera news network during a security conference in Munich. "It is now in the hands of the regime."

The opposition leader described the dialogue proposal as a "humanitarian" effort intended to prevent further bloodshed and destruction in a country where an estimated 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Mr Al Assad's rule began in March 2011.

Mr Al Khatib indicated last week that members of the opposition would be willing to hold talks with on the condition that some 160,000 political prisoners be released from jail. The plan has been criticised by some in the Syrian opposition coalition who want the president to step down first.

"We will find a solution, there are many keys. If the regime wants to solve [the crisis] it can take part in it," he said. "If it wants to get out and get the people out of this crisis we will all work together for the interest of the people and the departure of the regime."

Mr Al Khatib was chosen in November to head the Syrian National Coalition, a new umbrella group designed to represent most of the rebels and soothe western concerns about the ability of the opposition to pull together and present a viable alternative.

There has been no comment from Syrian officials on Mr Al Khatib's initiative last week or his latest comments.

As the Syria crisis continues and threatens to draw in more countries in the region, Iran yesterday warned that Israel would "regret" an air strike on a Syrian military convoy last week.

"They will regret this recent aggression," Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said during a visit to Damascus.

Without elaborating on how Iran may respond to the attack, Mr Jalili told a news conference in the Syrian capital that his country would work on Syria's behalf in its current role as head of the Non-Aligned Movement, a grouping of some 120 nations.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, appeared to confirm that Israel had carried out the attack when he said on Sunday that his country was serious about stopping the Syrian regime from transferring weapons to allies in Lebanon, including Hizbollah.

Meanwhile, officials in Beirut yesterday said an arrest warrant had been issued for Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria's national security council, for his alleged role in a plot to carry out attacks inside Lebanon.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press

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