Syrian opposition rejects Sochi peace talks as violence continues

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- The Syrian opposition has rejected Russia's planned Sochi conference on Syria, suggesting that it is aimed at side-stepping UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva to end the war.
"The Russians are trying by this conference to bypass the Geneva talks and will try to impose their conditions on the Syrian people," Ahmed Ramadan, the head of the press department in the Syrian National Coalition, told dpa on Tuesday.

"What is most dangerous in this conference is that the Russians will try to impose their planned and designed constitution for the country on the Syrian people," Ramadan said.
In a statement also signed by some 40 rebel groups, the factions said that Moscow - a close ally of the government in Damascus - has not helped to alleviate the suffering of Syrians.
Russia said it will host Syrian peace talks between Syria's government and opposition groups for the first time in January in the southern resort city of Sochi on the Black Sea.
The Sochi talks are intended to provide momentum for years-long negotiations brokered by the United Nations in Geneva, according to a joint statement by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which have been trying to maintain a broad ceasefire in Syria.
Like Russia, Iran supports Syria's government, whereas Turkey has backed certain opposition groups.
In north-western Syria, meanwhile, intensified airstrikes continued on the rebel-held countryside of Idlib for the second consecutive day, raising the number of dead to 20 over the last 24 hours, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In the south-eastern countryside of Idlib, a regime plane was shot down by rebels, the observatory said, adding that one pilot was killed shortly after he landed in a rebel area, where the fate of the other co-pilot is still unknown.
In Lebanon, the number of Syrian refugees has decreased from over 1 million to reach 997,905 by November 31, UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled told dpa.
She added that the number of refugees has decreased as some refugees have left and resettled in a third country, returned home to Syria, or just passed away.
Since the crisis began in Syria in 2011, Lebanon has hosted more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees, who were displaced by more than six years of war in their homeland.

Wednesday, December 27th 2017
Weedah Hamzah

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