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Room for Syria optimism?

February 20, 2013

Russia and the Arab League have expressed optimism that talks might take place between rebels and Syria's government. Meanwhile, Damascus has seen several mortar shellings, including a fatal attack on a soccer stadium.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R), Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr (C) and Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby (L) arrive for a meeting of the Russia-Arab cooperation forum in Moscow February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS)
Sergei Lavrov und Nabil al-ArabiImage: Reuters

Both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Arab League head Nabil Elaraby said on Wednesday that they were encouraged by signs of possible dialogue.

"There are signs of positive tendencies, signs of tendencies for dialogue both from the side of the government and the opposition," Lavrov said.

The men spoke at a joint news conference in Moscow after talks between Lavrov and an Arab delegation that included Elaraby and foreign ministers from Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt.

Lavrov confirmed that a trip to Moscow by the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib, was being planned. The Syrian opposition head had previously been unwilling to visit Russia because of its previous support for the government of President Bashar Assad. It is now understood that he is prepared to negotiate with a representative of Assad.

Along with China, Russia has vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against the Assad government and its crackdown on an uprising that has deteriorated into civil war, killing an estimated 70,000 people.

"What is needed is that the sides sit at the negotiating table" Lavrov said, adding that he expected a positive response from Damascus. "The government has long talked about this, but now the time has come when words have to be put into concrete deeds."

Lavrov said the diplomacy was aimed at "creating the conditions for the start of direct dialogue" between the regime and the opposition. Elaraby also welcomed the developments and urged Moscow to use its influence on Damascus effectively to help end the two years of conflict.

“We welcome the initiative by ... al-Khatib, who proposed to start a dialogue with the government, and I think we will be able to reach this goal," Elaraby said. "Russia has very good connections with the regime in Damascus, and we hope that it uses this tight relationship to convince the government that this crisis can only be ended peacefully."

Mortar attack kills footballer

In the latest of a series of mortars attacks in Damascus, a Syrian footballer was killed and several others wounded when a stadium near the city center was hit, state news agency SANA said.

"Two mortars launched by terrorists hit the grounds of the Tishreen sports stadium in the Baramkeh district of Damascus, killing a player of Al-Wathbah football team and wounding several others during training," SANA said. The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said a player had been killed.

Syrian television broadcast footage showing bloodstained walls and shattered glass on the beds in the team's sleeping quarters.

On Tuesday, two mortars exploded close to one of Assad's presidential residences, the Tishreen Palace, to the west of the capital. The shells were said to have caused only material damage.

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