Syria said Saturday it is ready to participate in discussions with Moscow to halt its civil war next year, but the opposition dismissed the talks as just rumor. The fighting started in 2011 following a series of protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The latest proposal follows two failed attempts in Geneva to stop the violence in which which more than 200,000 people have died. The Islamic State, previously known as ISIS, controls a third of Syria but has not been involved in any discussions to end the conflict while many other rebel groups lack unified leadership.
"Syria is ready to participate in preliminary consultations in Moscow in order to meet the aspirations of Syrians to find a way out of crisis," a source in Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the country’s state-sponsored television channel, Reuters reports.
The Western-backed opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, is suspicious of Russia’s involvement in the peace talks as it has backed Assad throughout the conflict with weapons and other resources. Opposition leader Hadi al-Bahra told a press conference there was “no initiative as rumored."
“Russia does not have a clear initiative, and what is called for by Russia is just a meeting and dialogue in Moscow, with no specific paper or initiative," Bahra said. "All the talk is related to a meeting that would bring together various opposition factions, but nothing has been decided thus far," he added, according to al-Balad.
Syria’s state news agency said Saturday talks should focus on fighting “terrorism,” a term it uses for opposition forces. Assad’s government said the Syrian National Coalition does not represent most Syrians and the opposition should be represented by a small group in Damascus less critical of Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Syrian opposition groups must agree on a common approach, Reuters said, before holding talks with Assad’s government.