Syria’s foreign minister invited the country’s rebels on Saturday to lay down their weapons and take part in a national dialogue, saying everyone who participates will be included in a new Cabinet with wide executive powers.
Walid al-Moallem said in a live interview on state TV late on Saturday that any opposition parties could join the Cabinet as long as they reject foreign intervention in Syria.
The Syrian government has started contacting “representatives of the Syrian people,” he added.
Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed calls that he step down, vowing to keep fighting the rebels. Al-Assad also proposed a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution — concessions offered previously over the course of the uprising that began in March 2011. The opposition says that al-Assad can play no role in a resolution to the conflict.
“I tell the young men who carried arms to change and reform, take part in the dialogue for a new Syria and you will be a partner in building it. Why carry arms,” al-Moallem said in the hour-long interview. “Those who want foreign intervention will not be among us.”
He accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of arming and financing the rebels in Syria. He said that Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda-linked group that the US has declared a terrorist organization, but which fights alongside Syrian rebels, had brought fighters from 27 countries to fight in Syria.
Last month, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi proposed a plan to end Syria’s war with a ceasefire followed by the formation of a transitional government to run the country until new elections can be held. Brahimi did not mention al-Assad by name, but said the transitional government would have “full executive powers” and would replace the Syrian leader. The plan was unveiled by world powers at an international conference in Geneva in June last year. Al-Moallem said that the Geneva conference does not require al-Assad to leave power.
The interview came as activists reported violence in different areas of Syria.
In Idlib Province, Syrian troops fought intense battles on Saturday against rebels who are trying to capture two military bases in the northwest and step up their attacks on army compounds elsewhere in the country, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the rebels destroyed at least one tank near the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province. The rebels, who have been battling for weeks to take control of bases in Wadi Deif and Hamdiyeh, are working to cut off supply routes to the compounds, the Observatory said. Attacks on government bases are a recent focus of fighting in Syria’s civil war, which according to the UN has left more than 60,000 people dead since the conflict began in March 2011.
Last week, rebels captured the nearby air base of Taftanaz in a significant blow to al-Assad’s forces, who increasingly rely on airpower. The rebels also have been trying to capture other air bases in Aleppo Province, and, according to activists, were attacking the air base of Mannagh near the Turkish border.