Syrian minister ready to meet opposition leader

Arab World Materials 12 February 2013 02:39 (UTC +04:00)

Syrian Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar said Monday he is ready to meet with the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, outside Syria, DPA reported.

"I am willing to meet with Mr Khatib in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue," Ali Haidar told the British newspaper The Guardian.

His remarks were the most positive response the Syrian government has yet given to answer last week's call by al-Khatib for dialogue.

"The dialogue is a means to provide a mechanism for reaching free parliamentary and presidential elections. This is one of the subjects which will be discussed at the table. Such a thing could be the result of negotiations, but not a precondition," he was quoted as saying. "We reject a dialogue that is just to hand power from one side to another."

The opposition has always insisted on a dialogue that will focus on the departure of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Haidar's statement came a few hours after at least 13 people died in a car bombing at the Turkey-Syria border, Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said.

The crossing is on the main route from Turkey to Syria's northern city of Aleppo, which has witnessed fierce battles for control between government and rebel forces since July.

Turkey has always responded to cross-border gunfire and mortar rounds, and is currently hosting NATO Patriot missile batteries to defend against attacks from Syria.

Abdel Basset Seyyda, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, SNC, said that members of the group who were visiting the Syrian northern province of Aleppo, headed by George Sabra, the SNC chief, were suppose to cross the border when the blast took place.

Earlier, Syrian opposition activist Osama Semaan told Arab media he believed the explosion was an attack by loyalists of al-Assad in response to the offer of talks by al-Khatib.

Al-Khatib floated the idea of dialogue with the regime in rebel-held areas in northern Syria - an attempt to distance any such meeting from the capital, Damascus, the centre of which remains a regime stronghold.

"Syria will remain the beating heart of Arabism and it will not relinquish its principles no matter how much pressure is exerted upon it and regardless of the conspiracies that not only target Syria, but also all Arabs," al-Assad was quoted as saying by state news agency SANA.

In Cairo, al-Khatib said he was not offering "a surrender move," but that his aim was to ease the ordeals of the Syrian people.

Al-Khatib last week called for dialogue with regime members without "blood on their hands" and asked that al-Assad dispatch Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa for talks.

He also called for the release of some 160,000 prisoners and emphasized that all female detainees should be freed by Sunday - conditioning any dialogue on that move.

Elsewhere in Syria, a main Syrian activist group said 110 people were killed. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels seized control of the key Euphrates dam, and activists in Damascus said the Syrian Free Army managed to take over a base housing the elite presidential guard.

"The rebels managed to take control of the dam, but the fighters are not staying inside, for fear that the regime would bomb the facility. Inside engineers and employees are still manning the facility ... the rebels are at the entrances," the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

"This hydraulic dam is a big loss for the regime ... because it generates 880 megawatts of power," he said.

In the north-eastern province of al-Hassakeh, a twin suicide car bombing killed 14 intelligence agents, the Observatory said, while

activists in Aleppo said they have taken control of the key Al Jarrah military airport.

The Syrian uprising, which started in 2011 as peaceful protests against al-Assad's regime, has descended into a civil war that has so far killed, according to UN estimates, 60,000 people.