The Syrian government says it is ready for talks with the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on February 24 in Moscow that Syria is open to dialogue with those who want to take part. The foreign minister is meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who said last week there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis and that continued fighting between rebels and government forces will lead to "mutual destruction."
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev recently expressed doubts about the ability of the Assad government to remain in power. Medvedev said in an interview with Brazil's O Globo newspaper that the future of the decades-old regime is secondary to finding a peaceful solution. Setting upon a venue for negotiations, said the Russian leader, is of critical importance, said Medvedev, rather than supplying arms to any of the parties to the conflict or proclaiming as legitimate one side or the other.
A desire for an end to arms shipments was echoed by Patriarch Gregory III Laham of the Melkite Catholic Church. He begged for a diplomatic solution and appealed to the conscience of people of good will. "We beg them to listen to our voice and to see the suffering of the Syrian people. No one has the right to exonerate himself or deny his responsibility in the face of these massacres, this destruction and these acts of violence, or in the face of hatred and rancor between sons of the same homeland."
Syrian opposition activists report government warplanes attacking rebel districts in Damascus and Aleppo on the day before. Activists posted videos on the Internet claiming to show the aftermath of air strikes on rebel strongholds in the eastern suburbs of Damascus and the Aleppo suburb of Ezaz. There was no immediate word about casualties. Patriarch Gregory III Laham referred to three successive explosions in the Mazraa district of Damascus that left 53 persons dead, 235 wounded and serious material damage to a school and a hospital.
Opposition sources also say rebels captured a suspected former nuclear site that was destroyed in a 2007 airstrike that Syria blamed on Israel at that time. Syria later razed the structures in Deir el-Zour province. The U.N. nuclear agency says the site may have included a partially built nuclear reactor.
In other developments, French freelance photographer Olivier Voisin died in a Turkish hospital of shrapnel wounds sustained while covering the Syrian conflict near the northwestern town of Idlib. The 35-year old South Korea-born journalist was covering the operations of an armed opposition group when he was hit by an exploding shell on February 21. He had been rushed to a hospital in the Turkish city of Antakya. Voisin covered the Syrian civil war for French and international media. At least 21 journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the two-year conflict, one of the world's deadliest for the media.
- from VOA and agency reports.