Northern Syria, 1 Rabiul Tsani 1434/11 February 2013 (MINA) – Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib said Sunday (10/2) he was willing to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s representatives in rebel-held areas of northern Syria in an effort to end conflict that has killed about 60,000 people.
        The aim of the talks would be to find a way for Assad to leave power with the “minimum of bloodshed and destruction”, Alkhatib said in a statement published on his Facebook page, according to Malasyian Insider report monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA) Monday (11/2)
        Sources in the coalition, an umbrella group of opposition political forces, said that Alkhatib, a moderate cleric from Damascus, met international Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Cairo yesterday.
        Brahimi played a main role in organising meetings between Alkhatib and the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, Assad’s main supporters, in Munich last week.
        The sources said that in their talks yesterday the two men addressed the question of whether the coalition would formally endorse Alkhatib’s peace initiative.
        The Syrian government have not responded directly to Alkhatib’s initiative formulated last month. But Information Minister Amran al-Zubi on Friday repeated the government’s line that the opposition was welcome to come to Damascus to discuss Syria.
        Alkhatib has headed the Syrian National Coalition since it was founded last December in Qatar with Western and Gulf backing. He has quietly built links with religious figures across Syria.
        His latest offer of talks coincided with opposition reports of fighting moving closer to central Damascus, after  the opposition push into the east of the capital last week.
       The Local Coordination Committees, a network of grassroots activists, said clashes broke out yesterday (10/2) in the al-Afif neighbourhood of Damascus, which is adjacent to a presidential complex.
       The organisation said 77 people were killed in the clashes, including 16 people who it said had been executed by Assad’soldiers in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor.
       The war is pitting Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that has been in Syria since 1960s, against the Sunni majority that has led the protest movement.
      When Alkhatib made his offer of talks last month, he made this conditional on the authorities starting to release tens of thousands of political prisoners jailed since the eruption of the 22-month uprising.
      The United Nations said on Friday (10/2) that it saw a glimmer of hope in Alkhatib’s offer. UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the offer was “the most promising thing we’ve heard on Syria recently”.(T/P03/E1)

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)

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