Syria official says Bashar Assad resignation could be considered
BEIRUT — A senior Syrian official hinted Tuesday that President Bashar Assad’s resignation might be considered if the opposition agreed to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the 17-month-old conflict.
Deputy Prime Minster Qadri Jamil spoke during a visit to Russia, where he met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and discussed creating a transitional government.
“Making his resignation a condition for dialogue effectively means closing negotiations before they begin,” Jamil said, but “during negotiations there is nothing off the table that any of the sides can suggest, including this issue.”
Jamil said Syrian authorities wanted a dialogue “to form a government of national unity.”
His comments follow some recent defections from the government, including Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab and possibly Vice President Farouk Shara, though state media have reported that Shara has not left. Hijab has said the government controls no more than 30% of the country.
Opposition figures have repeatedly rejected the idea of negotiating with the Assad government, especially after officials failed to abide by the peace plan proposed by United Nations and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan.
Burhan Ghalioun, a member and former head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said there was no longer room for dialogue.
“There can be no negotiating with a criminal,” Ghalioun said in televised remarks.
The fighting in Syria claimed 200 lives Tuesday, half of those in the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs, opposition activists said. Much of the bloodshed was centered in the town of Modamieh Al-Sham, which government troops seized after rebel fighters withdrew under heavy shelling. Dozens of residents died under the bombardment and 40 additional bodies — apparently those of people who had been executed — were discovered in the basement of an apartment building, activists said.
Clashes raged in other neighborhoods of Damascus and from Aleppo in the north to Dair Alzour in the east. The southern province of Dara saw shelling and artillery fire, activists said.
In neighboring Lebanon, clashes between Assad opponents and his supporters Monday and Tuesday left six people dead in the northern city of Tripoli.
More than 60 people were injured when residents from rival neighborhoods exchanged gunfire as tensions over the Syrian conflict continued to spill into Lebanon, the official National News Agency reported.
The gun battles are part of long-standing sectarian divisions between the two adjacent neighborhoods: Bab Tabbaneh, a largely Sunni Muslim area where anti-Assad sentiment is strong, and Jabal Mohsen, an Alawite and pro-Assad stronghold. It was not the first time that Syrian-linked fighting has raged between them.
The Lebanese army fired on both sides in an attempt to stop the fighting, according to the National News Agency. The troops came under fire and suffered nine casualties, including five soldiers wounded when a hand grenade was thrown at their patrol. It wasn’t clear which side was attacking.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry condemned an incident Sunday in which four Syrian army shells landed in its territory during clashes between the government and rebels. One Jordanian girl suffered shrapnel wounds.
The Syrian ambassador was summoned to Amman, the Jordanian capital, and given a letter of protest to deliver to Assad’s government, according to Petra, Jordan’s official news agency.
The Foreign Ministry emphasized that the Syrian army bears responsibility for controlling the border with Jordan, and described the incident as “unacceptable,” Petra reported.
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow contributed to this report.
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