DAMASCUS: A prominent lawmaker from Syria’s ruling party on Tuesday rejected preconditions for dialogue set by the opposition chief to help end nearly two years of bloodshed.
However, pressure mounted on President Bashar Al Assad to respond to the surprise offer of talks by his main political opponents, but a pro-regime daily said the initiative came two years too late.
Assad was yet to comment on the offer from Syrian opposition chief, who on Monday told Al-Jazeera television “the ball is now in the regime’s court. They will either say yes or no.”
Regime lawmaker Fayez Sayegh told The Associated Press that dialogue between the Syrian government and its political opponents in the Syrian National Coalition should start without preconditions.
Opposition chief Mouaz Al Khatib said on Monday he is extending his hand “to facilitate the peaceful departure” of the regime to save the country from destruction after 22 months of civil war and called on President Bashar Assad to begin releasing tens of thousands of political prisoners as a first step.
Sayegh said that the numbers of opposition supporters in Syrian custody cited by Khatib were exaggerated, adding that he felt the opposition aims to embarrass the regime by setting preconditions.
“What is important is for Syrians to meet and agree on common ground for talks,” Sayegh said, adding that Khatib’s proposals such as the prisoners’ release should come “as a result of a dialogue, not before it begins.”
Khatib said last week he is willing to hold talks with the regime in Egypt, Tunisia or Turkey if that would help end the bloodshed.
His offer marked a departure from the mainstream opposition’s narrative insisting that Assad step down before any talks. Also on Tuesday, intense fighting between rebels and government troops broke out near a border crossing with Jordan, leaving 17 civilians — including two Jordanians — wounded, a Jordanian security official said.
Free Syrian Army spokesman Mohammed Etri said the fighting near the Nassib crossing had intensified over two days and was “decisive” because it was the first serious rebel attempt to seize posts and installations at the border with Jordan.
Fierce battles erupted in Aleppo also as rebels fought troops near an army barracks and tanks shelled the area, a watchdog said.
In the countryside surrounding Aleppo troops also shelled the rebel-held towns of Al Bab and Sfeira, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Both sides have sustained casualties,” said the Observatory. It gave no further details of the casualties. Tuesday’s violence comes a day after the army seized from rebels the town of Khanasser in eastern Aleppo province, according to residents.
Tuesday’s violence came a day after at least 123 people were killed in violence across Syria, among them 48 civilians, 36 rebels and 39 troops, according to the watchdog.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said on Tuesday that President Mahmoud Abbas was dispatching representatives to Syria to try to secure the safety of Palestinians caught in fighting.
Ahmed Majdalani said on Tuesday that representatives will meet Syrian officials to try to protect Palestinian areas from fighting that has engulfed parts of the capital Damascus.
Majdalani said they also will try to convince Palestinian factions to stay out of the fighting.