Sun, Sep 30, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Iraq floats plan to get Syrians talking


Damaged buildings and streets in Aleppo, Syria, are seen on Friday following months of clashes and battles between Syrian rebels and government forces.

Photo: AFP

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has proposed a two-stage plan to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict together to discuss a political transition in hopes of ending the 18-month war that has killed more than 30,000 people.

Zebari said in an interview on Friday that he made the proposal at a ministerial meeting of 20 countries mainly opposed to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The closed meeting of key members of the so-called Friends of Syria was chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

“The discussions were very good,” he said. “I think everyone ... recognized the need for a political transition — no preconditions — not to adopt maximalist positions.”

The first stage would be to bring together the countries that endorsed a blueprint leading to a political transition that was adopted in Geneva on June 30 to now focus on implementing its planks, Zebari said.

The second stage would be to invite representatives of the government and the opposition, both inside and outside Syria, to a conference in a neutral country outside the Middle East.

He said that international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would have to carry the plan forward.

Zebari said there are many other ideas on the table, including military intervention, humanitarian corridors and a no fly zone, but he called them “unrealistic” because there is no international support for them.

Asked what kind of support he got from the ministers for his two-stage proposal, Zebari said: “They are seriously looking at it, and it’s not outright rejection.”

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels and residents of Aleppo yesterday struggled to contain a huge fire that destroyed parts of the city’s medieval markets, following raging battles between government troops and opposition fighters activists said. Some described the overnight blaze as the worst blow yet to a historic district that helped make the heart of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial hub, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The fire started late on Friday amid heavy government shelling and was still burning yesterday morning, activists said.

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