Middle East

Syria conflict: Opposition chief to attend Geneva talks

Scene of suicide bombing in Sumariyah near Damascus - 24 November
Image caption Tens of thousands have died in Syria since protests began in March 2011

The head of Syria's main opposition group has said he will attend planned peace talks in Geneva in January aimed at ending the civil war.

Ahmad Jarba said the Syrian National Coalition saw talks as a step towards "leadership transition", meaning President Bashar al-Assad's removal.

The Syrian government has also said it would attend but would not negotiate a handover of power.

Rebel groups involved in the fighting have said they will not take part.

Heavy clashes were reported on Thursday in eastern Damascus and Golan in the south-west. Activists reported six dead after a surface-to-surface missile fell on the jihadist-controlled northern city of Raqa overnight.

More than 100,000 people have died in the violence since peaceful protests against Mr Assad began in March 2011.

Almost nine million others have been driven from their homes, around two-fifths of Syria's pre-war population.

'Democratic transformation'

The Syrian National Coalition has previously set conditions for attending peace talks - including the setting up of humanitarian corridors and release of political prisoners.

Mr Jarba said on Wednesday night that he would go to the conference, but reiterated that National Coalition rejected any future role for President Assad.

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Media captionOn the road with Syrian aid group

"Our position on Geneva is clear - in our last meeting of the National Coalition we presented a comprehensive and clear vision towards attending Geneva 2. This vision was agreed upon by the majority in the coalition," he said.

He said that "genuine democratic transformation" was needed, but that Mr Assad could not be part of it.

"There is no way that the individual responsible for the destruction of the country [meaning Mr Assad] can be responsible for building the country," he added.

Earlier the Syrian government confirmed it would attend the talks, but dismissed the opposition demand that Mr Assad should play no role in any transition.

The foreign ministry said its delegation to the talks would pursue "the Syrian people's demands, first and foremost eliminating terrorism". Officials routinely refer to all opposition in these terms.

The UN, US and Russia have been trying for months to get both sides to agree a political solution to the conflict.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said he expected both sides to come "with a clear understanding" that the goal of the talks was the full implementation of the Geneva Communique, issued after a meeting of the UN-backed Action Group for Syria in the Swiss city in June 2012.

He reiterated that the peace talks would seek to establish a transitional government with full executive powers - as envisaged in the Geneva Communique.

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