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WAR REPORT
50 killed in air strikes on Syria's Al-Bab: NGO
by Staff Writers
Damascus (AFP) Dec 01, 2013


A Syria solution must have Assad's blessing: minister
Damascus (AFP) Dec 01, 2013 - No solution proposed at Syria peace talks next month will be implemented without President Bashar al-Assad's approval, the deputy foreign minister said in remarks published Sunday.

"The Syrian (government) delegation at Geneva will be working under Assad's directives, and any solutions proposed will have no impact unless Assad approves of them," Faisal Muqdad said in remarks in the Syrian press.

He lashed out at Western calls for Assad to step down, saying the president "represents Syria's sovereignty and unity".

The US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2, which should bring government and rebel representatives to the negotiating table in a bid to end the bloody 32-month war, is being planned for January 22.

The opposition has agreed to attend the talks on condition that they lead to a transitional phase that excludes Assad and his regime.

But government officials and their backers in Iran and Russia insist there should be no preconditions, and Assad has also said he would be willing to stand for re-election in 2014.

The proposed talks come amid rising international fears of an Islamist takeover in Syria.

According to Muqdad, "in their closed meetings, Western leaders say there is no replacement for Assad".

He also said that at Geneva 2, "we will gather around the table and we will discuss, without foreign interference... and there will be an enlarged government".

Muqdad reiterated his government's "reservations about participation (in Geneva 2) by representatives of the armed terrorist groups," the government term for rebels.

He also said opposition backer Turkey "has started to change its policy" on Syria.

Once an Assad ally, Ankara became the lead voice calling for regime change after Damascus cracked down on peaceful protests that later morphed into a bloody insurgency.

More recently, the rise of jihadism in Syria has made Turkey more cautious on the conflict raging across its southern border.

Muqdad criticised "the stupid Turkish policy which has compromised the Turkish people... by attracting Al-Qaeda" to its territory.

According to Ankara, 500 Turks have joined jihadist ranks in Syria.

Last week, a Turkish delegation led by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Assad's main regional backer Iran. The Turkish and Iranian diplomatic chiefs both said they would press for a ceasefire ahead of Geneva 2.

A two-day wave of regime air strikes on a north Syrian town has killed 50 people, a monitor said Sunday, while in Damascus a mortar round struck the French school without causing injuries.

On the political front, Syria's deputy foreign minister insisted that no solution to Syria's conflict proposed at a January 22 peace conference in Geneva would be implemented without President Bashar al-Assad's approval.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that helicopters on Sunday dropped explosive-laden barrels on the rebel-held town of Al-Bab in northern Syria's Aleppo province, killing at least 24 people, including two women and four children.

Their deaths in a market area of Al-Bab came a day after similar aerial bombardments on the same town that killed at least 26 others.

State news agency SANA, reporting on the conflict in the town, said "Syrian army units destroyed the headquarters of an Islamic (rebel) tribunal in Al-Bab in a special operation," without giving further details.

Large swathes of Aleppo province have been under rebel control for more than a year, and have suffered frequent aerial attacks by the regime.

Meanwhile in Damascus, children escaped a mortar attack on the French school, officials said.

"A mortar shell landed on the chimney of a classroom around 9:00 am (0700 GMT). No one was hurt but the windows shattered and the walls cracked," school receptionist Bashir Oneiz told AFP.

Aline Farah, a nurse at the Charles de Gaulle school in the upscale central district of Mazzeh, said students were in class when the mortar struck.

'Miracle that no one was hurt'

"It was a miracle that no one was hurt, neither students nor teachers nor employees," she said.

"They were all crying. They were terrified. We took them to an underground shelter," said Farah.

The attack was condemned by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who issued a statement calling it "cowardly".

The school, which is the only foreign school still open in the Syrian capital, has about 220 students, down from a pre-war figure of 900.

It caters both to Syrian students and the children of a few remaining foreigners living in the country despite a brutal 32-month conflict between the government and rebels.

Rebels in rear bases on the outskirts of Damascus regularly fire rockets and mortar rounds into the centre of the capital, with the attacks becoming more frequent and more deadly in the past few weeks.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said at least five regime forces were killed overnight in a suicide car bomb attack at a police checkpoint on the Damascus-Homs highway near the contested town of Nabuk.

The group said a fighter from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front carried out the attack, which came as regime forces try to gain control of Nabuk, as part of an operation to recapture the Qalamoun region.

The army has already captured the towns of Qara and Deir Attiyeh, and a Syrian security source told AFP troops now controlled 60 percent of Nabuk, which lies further south towards the capital on the Damascus-Homs highway.

The Observatory said regime warplanes carried out air strikes on the town on Sunday, and fierce fighting continued there between rebel fighters, including jihadists, and army troops backed by a pro-regime militia and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah.

The Syrian regime is trying to sever rebel supply routes that run through the mountainous Qalamoun region, north of Damascus, across the nearby border with Lebanon.

Amid the escalation of violence, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said no solution proposed at peace talks next month would be implemented without Assad's blessing.

"The Syrian (government) delegation at Geneva will be working under Assad's directives, and any solutions proposed will have no impact unless Assad approves of them," Muqdad said in remarks reported in the Syrian press.

Under a US-Russian-led initiative, rebels and the Syrian government are scheduled to attend January 22 peace talks dubbed Geneva 2.

The opposition has agreed to attend the talks on condition that they lead to a transitional phase that excludes Assad and his regime.

But government officials and their backers in Iran and Russia insist there should be no preconditions, and Assad has also said he would be willing to stand for re-election in 2014.

Syria's war has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes.

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