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Syria signals readiness for Aleppo cease-fire, prisoner swap with rebels

Damascus is seeking a regional cease-fire and a prisoner swap with opposition fighters, the Syrian foreign minister has said. The news came during a press conference in Moscow just days ahead of Syria peace talks.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem met with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday in diplomatic efforts aimed at building trust between government forces and opposition fighters less than a week before international peace talks. Following their meeting, the two diplomats told reporters of a proposal that would include facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to victims of the war, as well as cooperation between government forces and opposition fighters.

According to the Syrian foreign minister, the government under President Bashar al-Assad was willing to make a prisoner swap as part of a gesture of goodwill to the opposition.

"We are ready to exchange lists and develop the necessary mechanism for accomplishing these goals," Syrian Foreign Minister al-Muallem said. However, he did not indicate how many prisoners would be included.

The two foreign ministers had also discussed the possibility of calling a cease-fire in Syria's second city, Aleppo, which lies roughly 190 miles (310 km) north of the capital, Damascus.

"I count on the success of this plan if all sides carry out their obligations," al-Muallem said, adding that the cease-fire in Aleppo could "serve as an example to other towns."

Speaking from Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Syrian government had to accept the terms of next week's conference, and insisted there was no place for Assad in the future.

"I believe as we begin to get to Geneva, and begin to get into this process, that it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a
transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen," said Kerry.

Next week, international peace talks - dubbed Geneva II - are to take place in Montreux, Switzerland with the goal of ending the nearly three-year civil war in Syria.

The Syrian National Coalition

, an umbrella group comprised of the country's various opposition blocs, has not yet agreed to attend the meeting, citing concerns that world powers wouldn't guarantee President al-Assad's unconditional resignation.

The group was scheduled to vote on Friday on whether to attend the conference

.

Violence in Syria has claimed more than 100,000 lives since fighting broke out in March 2011.

The war has displaced millions of people internally

and driven more than 2 million refugees into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

kms,dr/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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