International envoy, al-Assad discuss Geneva peace talks
UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday discussed in Damascus a long-awaited international conference to end the country's 31-month conflict, dpa reported.
"The efforts exerted to hold the Geneva conference are focusing on ways to bring Syrians together and agree on a solution to solve the (Syrian) crisis as soon as possible and draw up a preliminary formula about Syria's future," the state-run news agency SANA quoted Brahimi as saying at the meeting.
SANA quoted al-Assad as telling Brahimi that "ending support to terrorist groups and pressuring their sponsors" holds the key to a "successful" political solution to the conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 100,000 people.
"The Syrian people are the only ones authorized to shape the future of Syria and any solution or agreement that would be reached must be accepted by the Syrians and reflect their wishes away from any foreign interference," said al-Assad.
Al-Assad has repeatedly accused Arab and Western powers of offering money and weapons to rebels fighting to oust his regime.
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, is currently in Syria as part of a regional tour to drum up support for the parley planned for late November in Geneva.
The United States and Russia, al-Assad's key ally, have proposed the conference earlier this year.
Brahimi had separately met on Tuesday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Damascus-based opposition politicians.
Brahimi has been repeatedly accused of bias by both the Syrian opposition and government.
The opposition National Syrian Coalition has said Brahimi exceeded his mandate by speaking about al-Assad playing a role in a transitional period.
Damascus, meanwhile, has accused Brahimi of being biased after he called for "real, not cosmetic change" in Syria and accused al-Assad of "resisting the aspirations of his people."
Two mortars Wednesday landed into a Damascus street, causing unspecified casualties and a fire, reported a pro-opposition watchdog group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added that six civilians, including three children, had been killed earlier on Wednesday in a shelling attack by al-Assad's troops on the restive district of al-Hajar al-Aswad south of Damascus.
In western Damascus, some 800 civilians have been evacuated since Tuesday from a suburb besieged for months by regime forces, a local activist said.
Women, children and the elderly were among those evacuated by the Syrian Red Crescent through a humanitarian corridor established west of Maadamiyet al-Sham, Haytham al-Abdallah told dpa.
He added that 300 men who were among the evacuees had been detained by regime forces and their fate was still unknown.
The government says all civilians have left Maadamiyet al-Sham and only "terrorists" are staying behind.
Rebel-held areas near Damascus have been besieged by al-Assad's troops since March amid reported food shortages.