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Syria's government 'prepared in principle' for Geneva talks

Russia has said that the Syrian government has agreed in principle to an international conference aimed at brokering peace. However, Moscow voiced doubts about whether the talks would go ahead anytime soon.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that it had received an agreement from the Syrian government that it was prepared, at least theoretically, to send representatives to peace talks planned for next month.

"We note with satisfaction that we have received an agreement in principle from Damascus to attend the international conference, in the interest of Syrians themselves finding a political path to resolve the conflict, which is ruinous for the nation and region," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.

Damascus had indicated it was considering taking part on Wednesday, when Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said a decision would be made soon.

The conference - dubbed Geneva 2 - was proposed earlier this month by both the United States and Russia, which have lent their support to opposite sides in the conflict.

However, Lukashevich said the possible timing of the conference was unclear, claiming there was no clarity about who would represent the opposition.

"Demands to immediately name a specific date for the conference without having clarity about who - and with what authority - will speak in the name of the opposition, cannot be taken seriously," Lukashevich said.

Talks ahead of talks

On Thursday, main opposition group the Syrian National Coalition met in Istanbul to begin a three-day conference considering proposals for a transition government. The suggestions included granting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad safe passage out of the country, as well as members of his regime and their families.

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Thursday also saw an Arab League meeting in Cairo, in which the group's Syria committee agreed on "several point to help the next international conference in Syria succeed." While the details were not revealed formally, they were thought to include plans for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force.

The first Geneva talks, in June 2012, saw the UN Action Group on Syria meet and agree on a six-point plan that would lead to elections via transitional government. The deal was never implemented because of disagreements about what role al-Assad would have in the new government.

In Syria itself on Friday, clashes were reported to be underway at the central prison of Aleppo. State media said several inmates had been wounded or killed after rebels fired mortar bombs.

Intense fighting was also reported in the town of Qusair, close to the Lebanese border, which government forces have been trying to recapture from rebels since Sunday.

According to UN estimates, at least 80,000 people have been killed, with several million displaced since the uprising began in March 2011.

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

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