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Syrian opposition chief says offers Assad peaceful exit

05 February, 2013

BEIRUT: Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib urged President Bashar al-Assad on Monday to respond to his initiative for dialogue, saying it was aimed at ending the bloodshed and helping "the regime leave peacefully".

Speaking after meeting senior Russian, US and Iranian officials at the weekend, Alkahtib said none of them had a plan to end the civil war and Syrians must find their own resolution.

"The big powers have no vision ... Only the Syrian people can decide on the solution," the Syrian National Coalition leader told Al Jazeera Television.

The moderate Islamist preacher announced last week he was prepared to talk to Assad's representatives. Although he set several conditions, the move broke a taboo on contacts with authorities and dismayed many in opposition ranks who insist on Assad's departure as a precondition for negotiation.

Alkhatib said it was not "treachery" to seek dialogue to end a conflict in which more than 60,000 people have been killed, 700,000 have been driven from their country and millions more are homeless and hungry.

"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," he told the Qatar-based channel. "It is now in the hands of the regime." Assad announced last month what he said were plans for reconciliation talks to end the violence but - in a speech described by UN Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as narrow and uncompromising - he said there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or "puppets made by the West".

Syria's uprising erupted 22 months ago with largely peaceful protests, escalating into a civil war that pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, who is from Syria's Alawite minority and whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years.

The violence has divided major powers, with Russia and China blocking UN Security Council draft resolutions backed by the United States, European Union and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states that could have led to UN sanctions on Assad. Shi'ite Iran has remained his strongest regional backer.

Alkhatib said that the international deadlock meant that only Syrians could stave off further humanitarian disaster.

"We will find a solution, there are many keys," he said. "If the regime wants to solve (the crisis), it can take part in it. 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." One proposal under discussion was the formation of a transitional government, Alkhatib said, without specifying how he thought it could come about.

World powers agreed a similar formula seven months ago but then disagreed over whether that could allow Assad to stay on as head of state. Activists reported clashes between the army and rebel fighters to the east of Damascus on Monday and heavy shelling of rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs. The Jobar neighbourhood, on the southwestern edge of Homs, was hit by more than 100 rockets on Monday morning, one activist said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 180 people had been killed across the country on Sunday, including 114 rebel fighters and soldiers.

Sunday's death toll also included 28 people killed in the bombardment of a building in the Ansari district of the northern city of Aleppo.

Assad has described the rebel fighters as foreign-backed Islamist terrorists and said a precondition for any solution is that Turkey and Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states stop funding, sheltering and arming his foes.

End.

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