Brahimi, al-Arabi discuss Syria ahead of opposition talks

Brahimi, al-Arabi discuss Syria ahead of opposition talks

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Sunday discussed the prospects for ending the Syrian conflict, the 22-member pan-Arab organization said, dpa reported.

Al-Arabi would also meet with Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib on Monday, the Arab League said.

Al-Khatib has offered to negotiate with the regime to end the conflict, which began nearly two years ago and has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people.

However, he set the release of 160,000 opposition detainees and renewal of passports for Syrians stranded abroad as a condition and called on the regiome to free all female detainees by Sunday.

There was no sign Sunday that the the government of President Bashar al-Assad had met the demand.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoghabi had Friday said the government was ready to hold "unconditional" dialogue with the opposition.

The Arab League is to discuss Monday the ordeal of thousands of Syrians who are taking refuge in neighbouring countries.

Around 5,000 people are leaving Syria on a daily basis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said this week.

In Syria itself, government jets Sunday stepped up bombardment of areas around the capital Damascus believed to be strongholds of rebels fighting to oust al-Assad, reported an opposition group.

Eight civilians, including three children, were killed in a shelling by government troops of the restive province of Daraa, added the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria's Antiquities Directorate warned Sunday that the unabated violence was taking its toll on the country's heritages.

Dozens of cultural and historical sites have been subject to damage and looting sine the outbreak of the political crisis in March 2011, the directorate said in a report.

"Syria's cultural heritage and archaeology is under attack," Maamoun Abdulkarim, the general director of Antiquities and Museums, said in the Jordanian capital Amman.

According to the report, several heritage sites sustained "limited damage" in fierce clashes between the government troops and rebels, including iconic treasures such as the Aleppo Citadel in the north and the Shaizr castle near the central city of Hama.

"There is a focus in the media on castles and Roman cities, but we are losing important Christian sites as well," Abdulkarim said.

Syria is home to over 10,000 archaeological and historical sites- six of which have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Meanwhile, the head of Syria's biggest Christian denomination was enthroned Damascus, amid controversy over the attendance of Lebanese Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.

Patriarch John X al-Yaziji was officially installed as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the entire East in the Holy Cross Church in Damascus, Syria's official SANA news agency reported.

Speaking during the ceremony, al-Rahi, the head of the Maronite Church which is the largest Christian church in neighbouring Lebanon, said Syria's conflict was "an absurd war."

Al-Rahi, along with other church leaders, attended the inauguration ceremony in a show of solidarity for Syria's Christian community.

His visit was the first by a Maronite patriarch since Lebanese independence in 1943.

The visit was harshly criticized by Syrian opposition figures who saw it as signalling sympathy towards al-Assad's regime.

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