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Syria Today: The Fight Over the International "Peace" Conference

The past two weeks have been marked on the political front by efforts, led by the US and Britain, for an international conference to resolve the Syrian conflict.

In particular, both countries have tried to prise Russia away from the Syrian regime, setting the condition that President Assad must step aside during a transitional Government. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron have visited Moscow with the message.

Yet, far from offering the prospect for a resolution --- or even the departure of Assad --- the effort has only highlighted an immediate struggle: the fight between the US, linked to Britain, and Russia to control the manoeuvres around the conflict.

On Friday, it was Moscow's turn to seize the initiative. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used a visit by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to set out Moscow's defiance of the pressure from Washington and London.

While Moscow was eager for the international conference, Lavrov made no reference to a pre-condition such as Assad' departure. Instead, the Foreign Minister set his own demand: Iran, a key ally of Assad, must be involved in the conference as a "very important external player".

Ban's reaction? He merely said, without any apparent acknowledgement of the power play between the US and Russia, "We must maintain the momentum" toward a conference.

Insurgents Retake Suburb of Damascus

Insurgents have retaken the Damascus suburb of Otaiba, which was been a conduit for arms from Jordan to opposition forces near the capital before it was seized by regime forces last month.

Commanders said insurgent brigades, including the General Command and Islamist factions, had united to re-claim Otaiba, two miles northeast of Damascus International Airport.

The opposition forces adopted a white banner with the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but God; Mohammad is God's prophet."

Assad Rejects International Conference

In a newspaper interview, President Assad has dismissed a proposed international conference: "We have said from the very beginning that any decision about reforms in Syria or any other political action are local decisions and it is not permissible that the U.S. or any other state interfere in them."

He told Argentina's Clarin newspaper, “We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria."

Assad rejected Washington's demand that he step aside:

The country is in a crisis and when a ship faces a storm, the captain does not flee.

The first thing he does is face the storm and guide the ship back to safety. I am not someone who flees from my responsibilities.

Car Bomb in Damascus

State news agency SANA reports that a car bomb in the Rukneddin neighbourhood in Damascus has killed at least two people and injured seven.

Has Turkey Softened Opposition To Syria Peace Conference?

Turkish media reported Saturday that Ankara has toned down its negative stance towards a US-Russia brokered international peace conference on Syria, AFP reports.

The change came in the wake of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's trip to the United States, when Ankara agreed to the international conference "in return for some guarantees" from Washington including an assurance that the process would not be "open-ended" and the parties would not allow months-long delaying tactics in the name of "diplomacy," according to commentator Asli Aydintasbas wrote in the liberal Milliyet newspaper.

The Turkish press said that though Erdogan had hoped to receive support from the US following a deadly car bombing near the Syrian border, he was disappointed.

The twin bombing --- which left at least 51 people dead and was dubbed "Turkey's 9/11" --- will likely have serious repercussions for Turkey's internal politics as well as its position on Syria.

See Also: Turkey Analysis: Beyond the Car Bombs --- The Kurds, Iraq, and Syria

The pro-government Sabah daily wrote that although Erdogan was greeted "with flamboyance" in Washington, he left without a "concrete result", including regarding Ankara's call for a no-fly zone over Syria.

Iran Suggests Alternative Dialog on Syria --- In Tehran

Iran's Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Seyyed Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi, has proposed that Iran conduct an alternative conference on Syria --- in the Iranian capital, ITAR-TASS reports.

The meeting would be for the "friends of Syria", Sajjadi said, adding that: "We propose a meeting of foreign ministers or deputy ministers, and have invited representatives from some 30 states that are friendly to Syria, including Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Algeria."

Sajjadi said that the issues proposed for discussion at the conference included "peaceful ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, and also the possibility of bringing the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table."

While ITAR-TASS offered this brief report on Sajjadi's comments, elsewhere in the Russian media, there has been cynicism about the proposed international peace conference.

Business and political daily cited the head of the Moscow-based Middle East Institute, Evgenii Satanovskii, as saying that the conference would not have any effect on the fighting inside Syria. Talk of the conference was merely an exercise in self-justification on behalf of the US State Department and Russia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"When the parties find themselves unable to carry out relevant activities, then they must carry out irrelevant activities," Satanovsky said.


The Violations Documentation Center reports that 60,687 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March 2011. Of the deaths, 47,428 were civilians.

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