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Bashar al-Assad invites peace talks with Syrian rebels

President says he is willing to negotiate with opposition to end escalating civil war

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has proposed peace talks with rebel factions in a bid to end the country’s two-year civil war that has claimed the lives of an estimated 70,000 people.

In an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times published on 3 March, Assad said his government would enter negotiations with rebel forces under certain conditions.

“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms,” he said, despite adding that he would not be swayed by international pressure to stand down from his role.

He also took a swipe at the Turkish and Saudi Arabian governments, which he claimed were aiding the transfer of arms “and terrorists” into Syria.

“If anyone wants to genuinely help Syria and help the cessation of violence, they can go to Turkey and talk to [prime minister] Tayyap Erdogan and ask him to stop smuggling terrorists into Syria and stop providing logistical support to these terrorists,” he said. “They can go to Saudi Arabia and tell them to stop financing terrorists in Syria.”

Al-Assad’s interview coincides with news that the US will provide non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, as well as $60m in funding to the country’s opposition groups. The move has attracted strong criticism from the Syrian regime and Iran.