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US urges Syrian opposition to attend Rome meeting


A senior US official on Sunday urged the Syrian opposition to withdraw its threat to pull out of an international meeting in Rome on Thursday which new Secretary of State John Kerry will attend.

National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said on Saturday it was pulling out of the 11-nation meeting of the Friends of Syria to protest at the "shameful" inaction of the international community in the face of civilian killings.

The US official said: "We are stressing... that they have an opportunity in Rome, to see the countries that have been their greatest supporters and to present to all of us how they see the situation on the ground in security, humanitarian, political and economic terms.

"This meeting is also an opportunity for them to meet our new Secretary of State and to speak directly to him," he added, speaking on board the plane carrying Kerry to London to start his first official trip, a tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was due in Cairo late Sunday to meet with the Syrian opposition to attempt to convince them to reverse their decision to boycott the Rome meeting.

However, the official acknowledged that the Syrian opposition was under "severe pressure" from its own members and the Syrian people, who are sceptical about the value of attending international conferences.

Khatib said Saturday that the withdrawal from the Rome meeting and the cancellation of planned visits to Washington and Moscow was in protest at the lack of global condemnation of "crimes committed against the Syrian people".

The Syrian conflict, which the UN says has claimed more than 70,000 lives in the two years since President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on anti-regime protesters, shows no sign of abating.