The U.S. said it strongly supports a call by opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib to open a dialogue with members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government subject to conditions, including the release of 160,000 detainees.
Al-Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Arabiya TV yesterday he was ready to meet Assad’s deputy, Farouk al-Shara, because since the start of the crisis he “has seen that things were going in the wrong direction.”
Al-Khatib said his initiative aimed to stem violence that has killed more than 60,000 people since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011, according to estimates from the United Nations. Food aid will be provided to total of 2.5 million Syrians in the country by the end of April, the World Food Program, a UN agency, said in an e-mailed statement today, 1 million more than at present.
Asked about al-Khatib’s offer, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday the opposition leader has “reiterated the offer that he’s been making for a number of days, and which we very much welcome, that if the regime has any interest in peace, it should sit down and talk now with the Syrian opposition coalition, and we would strongly support al-Khatib in that call.”
One question was how much support al-Khatib’s initiative has among the often fractious Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council dismissed al-Khatib’s proposal on its Facebook page as an “individual decision” that “does not represent the position and commitments of all powers” in the opposition.
The Syrian regime has defied forecasts of imminent collapse, and no end to the conflict is in sight. A year ago, Western leaders including then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron asserted Assad’s days were numbered.
Government forces bombarded several neighborhoods and battled rebel forces in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. The army reinforced checkpoints in the town of Khanaser and its surrounding area outside of Aleppo, which they took control over yesterday after violent clashes, the U.K.-based group said.