Major powers urge Assad to commit to peace



AMMAN, Jo Biddle and Rana Moussaoui- World powers urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to commit to peace but warned that should he fail to negotiate a political transition they would back the opposition's fight for freedom.
The stark warning came from US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of talks with the Friends of Syria group aiming to agree the contours of a peace conference to end the war which has claimed some 94,000 lives.



Major powers urge Assad to commit to peace
The United States and Russia, which have backed the opposite sides in the conflict now in its third year, are hoping to bring the warring sides together at the conference next month, although a date and venue remain unclear.
"We would call on President Assad to exhibit the same commitment to trying to find peace in his own country. That is critical," Kerry told a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh ahead of the talks.
But he warned "in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate... we will also talk about our continued support and our growing support for the opposition to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country."
Foreign ministers from 11 nations met for over two hours behind closed doors at an Amman hotel, before then holding long talks with the interim president of the Syrian National Coalition, George Sabra, and two other top rebel leaders.
In another sign of the growing impatience with Assad's refusal to go, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron said they would seek European support for their proposal to arm the Syrian opposition.
"We are prepared to lift the arms embargo further so that the opposition can present themselves as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people," Cameron told reporters during a brief stopover in Paris.
Cameron said the situation in Syria was quite confused. "Sometimes we hear of successes by the opposition, sometimes we hear of successes by the regime... What we need is a political solution."
Kerry told the Amman talks that they were meeting at a "pivotal" moment amid a "disturbing increase in violence at the hands of the Assad regime."
The foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the meeting in the Jordanian capital.
Qatari Foreign Minister Hassem bin Jassem al-Thani unleashed a furious tirade against Assad accusing him of "continuing to kill his people with outside help and using banned weapons.
"Syria is totally destroyed, and all so that the regime can stay in place. We are with you and we will stay with you," he told Sabra.
The diplomatic drive came as Syrian regime forces and their allies pushed to retake the key rebel stronghold of Qusayr in central Homs province. It is drawing in neighbouring Lebanon, with the country's powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah dispatching fighters to bolster regime troops.
The Syrian opposition urged fighters across the country to "rush to the rescue" of Qusayr and appealed to the international community to set up a humanitarian corridor to the embattled town.
And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius revealed France was now ready to call for the military wing of Hezbollah to be blacklisted by the European Union as a terrorist organisation as a result of its role in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile hailed the Assad regime's "constructive reaction" to the proposed peace conference in talks with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad in Moscow.
But Lavrov said the initiative was being "undermined" by the actions of the opposition in Syria.
While Damascus has reportedly already proposed the names of several potential envoys to the mooted Geneva conference, the opposition which is meeting later this week in Istanbul has yet to decide whether it will attend.
"The Syrian regime is receiving help from Hezbollah and Iran. That's an increasing threat to regional stability," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters.
"If the regime were to think they can win a military victory and goes back to whatever was normal before, I think they will be making a terrible error."
Rebels captured an army camp in the northwestern province of Idlib on Wednesday in fighting which killed 40 Syrian soldiers and pro-regime militiamen as well as 14 rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
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Thursday, May 23rd 2013
Jo Biddle and Rana Moussaoui
           


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