Middle East

Syria opposition to join Rome talks after foreign aid pledge

Syrian rebel fighters (30 January 2013)
The UK said it was ready to 'significantly increase' its support for Syria's opposition

The Syrian opposition has agreed to attend an international summit in Rome, after the US and UK "promised specific aid" to the Syrian people.

The group had previously announced it would boycott the talks because of "the world's silence" over the violence.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague earlier confirmed there would be more support for Syria's opposition.

Mr Kerry was in London as part of his first foreign trip since taking office.

The Syrian opposition's announcement came amid reports of a deadly explosion and heavy fighting in an eastern part of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

It also emerged on Monday that a member of the UN peacekeeping force monitoring the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian troops in the demilitarised Golan Heights was missing.

"We can confirm that a staff member is not accounted for and we are in touch with the relevant parties to determine what has happened," UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey told the Associated Press.

'Alleviate the suffering'

After meeting Mr Hague and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Kerry called Syrian Opposition Council President Moaz Al-Khatib and encouraged him to join the Rome talks on Thursday.

No further details have been released about the conversation.

But on Monday evening, Mr al-Khatib said in a Facebook post that his group would fly to Italy.

"After discussions with coalition leaders and various calls, the coalition leadership has decided to stop the suspension of the visit to the Friends of Syria conference in Rome," the statement said.

More specifically Mr Kerry and Mr Hague had both offered guarantees "to alleviate the suffering of our people".

The talks would be "used as a practical way to reassess relations between the Syrian opposition and international parties", the post said.

Mr Kerry is due to meet Syrian opposition members and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Berlin on Tuesday.

The US Secretary of State, who succeeded Hillary Clinton, is on an 11-day tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Speaking in London, Mr Kerry said he understood Syrians wanted results from the summit and promised it would not just be a talking shop.

"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming,'' he told reporters after meeting Mr Cameron and Mr Hague.

"We are not going to let the Syrian opposition not have its ability to have its voice properly heard in this process."

Mr Hague also said the UK was preparing to "significantly increase" its support for Syria's opposition.

Earlier, the Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem had announced his government was ready for talks with its opponents, even armed rebels.

Meanwhile, a massive blast was reported in the al-Qaboun neighbourhood in Damascus on Monday evening.

Several Syrian security were killed in the explosion caused by a car bomb, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group.

Rebels were clashing with security forces and mortars had been fired in the area, it added.

The SOHR is one of the most prominent organisations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict.

The group says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified.