Damascus: Opposition can return if ready for dialogue
Damascus said Thursday it would allow opposition leaders living in exile to return to the country if they are ready to participate in a national dialogue, DPA reported.
The announcement came as Jordan launched an urgent aid appeal to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis.
In a statement posted on the Syrian state-run news agency SANA, the Interior Ministry said: "It is allowed to all Syrian opposition leaders living abroad who have the desire to participate in the national dialogue to enter Syria regardless of the documents they bear through Damascus international airport, all border points."
"Orders have been given to all border checkpoints to facilitate the entrance of the returnees," the government said.
Damascus called on all Syrian citizens who left the country because of the conflict, whether legally or illegally, to return.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a speech on January 6 called for a national dialogue to end the 22-month conflict in the country, but stressed that he would not talk to those who have taken up arms against his regime.
He spelled out a transition plan, but insisted that any decision must be purely Syrian and ratified by referendum, including a "national charter" that would be agreed on in a national dialogue conference.
He did not say he was prepared to leave power, a key demand by the opposition groups.
Walid al Buni, spokesman of The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups founded in Doha in November, dismissed the call as a new "stupid manoeuvre" by the regime.
"What dialogue they are talking about, a dialogue a criminal regime has set for its people ..., " al Buni told dpa.
The call for return came as violence mounted across Syria and the influx of refugees continued to increase into neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon.
Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said he had called for urgent support from international donors to help Jordan deal with an "unprecedented" number of Syrian refugees. A record 6,000 crossed on Tuesday alone.
Earlier this month, Jordan reported 285,000 Syrian refugees, more than half of those displaced by the conflict.
The influx has pushed Jordan's lone Syrian refugee camp well beyond its 60,000-person capacity.
Lebanon, another country hosting an estimated 200,000 Syrians, is to ask for 270 million dollars at a conference of donors on Syria on January 30 in Kuwait, Lebanese newspaper An Nahar reported Thursday.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad was shown on state television attending a public ceremony marking the anniversary of the birth of the prophet Mohammed.
His appearance, the first since January 6, coincided with an official call for "million-man prayers" in mosques on Friday to appeal for re-establishing security in the country ravaged by nearly two years of bloodshed.
"Prayers will be held after Friday services in Syria's mosques for return of security and safety in the homeland," Minister of Religious Endowments Mohammed Abdel Settar said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
At least 90 people were killed Thursday in Syria, mainly in the rebellious central city of Homs and the northern province of Aleppo, said opposition activists.
Among the dead were 25 people killed in bombardments by government warplanes on the town of al-Qusair in Homs district, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Thirty-five died, among them six children, in various clashes across Aleppo.
"The regime troops are carrying out an ethnic cleansing in the area," said George Sabra, the head of the Syrian National Council, which comprises opposition politicians living in exile.
"The regime uses the most criminal methods by shelling urban areas, blocking areas to prevent delivery of food and medical supplies and sending loyal sectarian militia to massacre entire districts and villages," Sabra added.
News from Syria is hard to verify as authorities have barred most media from the country since the start of the uprising