Syria FM: Damascus prepared for prisoner exchange

Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Syria's foreign minister said Friday that his country is prepared to implement a cease-fire in the war-torn city of Aleppo and exchange detainees with the country's opposition forces as confidence building measures ahead of a peace conference opening next week in Switzerland.

Walid al-Moallem told journalists about the cease-fire plan after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Al-Moallem did not divulge details of the plan, which would contain "measures to enforce security" in Aleppo, 190 miles (310 km) from the Syrian capital.

"As a result of our confidence in the Russian position and its role in stopping the Syrian bloodshed, today I submitted to Minister Lavrov a plan for security arrangements that have to do with the city of Aleppo," said al-Moallem. "I asked him to make necessary arrangements to guarantee its implementation and specify the zero hour for military operations to cease."

Al-Moallem said that if Lavrov's efforts were successful, the cease-fire plan could be used as a model for other parts of Syria, where the conflict between President Bashar Assad's government and opposition forces has claimed over 100,000 lives.

The meeting between Russian and Syrian sides was part of a final diplomatic push ahead of a peace conference dubbed Geneva 2, which opens Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. On Thursday, Lavrov met with the foreign minister of Iran, Syria's staunchest regional backer. Lavrov strongly urged the West to invite Tehran to participate in next week's peace conference.

But prospects for the talks, the first between the warring sides in Syria since the start of the conflict, are dim as each party shows no inclination for compromise.

Al-Moallem's comments came on the same day that Syria's main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, will meet in Istanbul to decide whether to participate in the peace talks. The coalition has remained adamant that the ouster of Assad is a condition for any deal, and Al-Moallem's overtures in Moscow appeared to be an attempt to coax the group into attending the talks.

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Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.

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