Moscow: The Syrian government has reportedly agreed to hold talks with the rebels who have been fighting to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The offer to hold talks with the rebels was publicly made by the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem.
However, no pre-condition for the talks to take place have been mentioned for now by the minister, as per news agency report.
"We're ready for a dialogue with anyone who's willing for it," al-Moallem said in Moscow ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart, "even with those who carry arms. We are confident that reforms will come about not with the help of bloodshed but through dialogue."
One rebel commander welcomed the idea of talks, but only on the condition that Assad and those who are responsible for the bloodshed are put on trial.
Syria's 23-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed many of the country's cities, has repeatedly confounded international efforts to bring the parties together to end the bloodshed. Russia, a close ally of Assad and his regime's chief international advocate, offered last Wednesday, in concert with the Arab League, to broker talks between the rebels and the government.
The proposal — which the Kremlin would be unlikely to float publicly without first securing word from Damascus that it would indeed take part — suggested the regime could be warming to the idea of a settlement as it struggles to hold territory and win back ground it has lost to the rebels.
Syria's rebels have scored several tactical victories in recent weeks, capturing the nation's largest hydroelectric dam and overtaking airbases in the northeast. In Damascus, they have advanced from their strongholds in the suburbs into neighborhoods in the northeast and southern rim of the capital, while peppering the center of the city with mortar rounds for days.
On Thursday, a huge bomb blast near the ruling Baath party headquarters in Damascus killed at least 53 people, according to state media.
While the momentum may be subtly shifting in the rebels' direction, the regime's grip on Damascus remains firm, and Assad's fall is far from imminent — or certain.
Ahead of the meeting with al-Moallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated his call for Syria to negotiate with the opposition, saying that "the situation in Syria is at a crossroads now." He also warned that further fighting could lead to "the breakup of the Syrian state."
Past government offers for talks with the opposition have included a host of conditions, such as demanding that the rebels first lay down their arms. Those proposals have been swiftly rejected by both activists outside the country and rebels on the ground.
First Published: Monday, February 25, 2013, 21:59