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Syria peace talks to go ahead in November

Syrian peace talks are to take place at the end of November, according to a top Syrian minister. Deadlock on the ground and international outcry over chemical weapons attacks have prompted renewed efforts to end the war.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told reporters that peace talks "could" take place as soon as November. The comments were given during a visit to the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Thursday.

When asked to provide a more specific date, the Syrian deputy prime minister said "November 23-24," adding that the dates were those given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"Yes, this is what [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon is saying, not me," Deputy Prime Minister Jamil added.

International efforts to bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian opposition groups together to negotiate a peace treaty in Geneva - dubbed "Geneva 2" - have stalled repeatedly, hampered by a lack of cooperation from either side. The Assad regime and the Syrian National Coalition, which is comprised of most of the opposition groups, have clashed over setting preconditions for holding negotiations. The Syrian president has most notably rejected demands from the opposition that he resign unconditionally for negotiations to begin.

Syrian opposition undecided on talks

A member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) told news agency DPA last week that the group had not yet decided on whether to attend the conference in Geneva if it were to finally take place.

"It depends on the international guarantees that we receive," SNC member Ahmed Ramadan told DPA.

Growing alarm over the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria and its spillover into neighboring countries has alarmed international leaders, but has drawn varied reactions on what action, if any, should be taken.

Moscow, one of Damascus' closest allies, has championed a political solution, while Washington supports authorizing limited military action if Assad stops complying with international efforts to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile.

However, Assad's recent cooperation with the international community has helped convince some nations, including the US, of the possibility of achieving a political solution in Syria. Earlier this month, he allowed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Hague-based chemical watchdog tasked with destroying his chemical weapons, to enter Syria. It has reportedly completed half of its mission.

Al-Assad's regime has been locked in a civil war with the opposition fighters since March 2011. Over 100,000 people have died in the violence. Fighting and destruction have also caused a refugee crisis in the region, straining resources in neighboring countries. According to UN estimates, fighting and destruction has driven over two million people into Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

kms/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)