Envoy presses Syria

The U.N. official urged leaders to accept rebels' offer to negotiate

Posted: February 18, 2013

BEIRUT - A U.N. envoy on Sunday intensified pressure on the Syrian government to accept an opposition offer to negotiate an end to the country's 23-month-long conflict.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, told reporters in Cairo that opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib's initiative aimed at opening negotiations with representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government remains very much "on the table" after it received an endorsement from the wider opposition on Friday.

The offer was initially announced on Facebook by Khatib, the president of the umbrella National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, stirring outrage from other members of the coalition, who claimed they had not been consulted. The opposition has long rejected talks with any representatives of Assad's regime, holding it responsible for the more than 60,000 deaths reported by the U.N. since the revolt erupted in March 2011.

But in a statement Friday, the coalition said that while it continues to reject a role for Assad and the leadership of his security apparatus, it would accept talks with any other Syrians, including those serving with the government, "as long as they did not participate in any crimes."

The U.N. is willing to host the discussions and it is up to the Syrian government to identify an "acceptable delegation," Brahimi said.

On Sunday, rebel fighters in the strategic northern city of Aleppo upheld their attacks against the international airport, and two military airports in the province, building on a string of successes against military facilities in recent months.

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