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Friends of Syria agree no future for Assad and family

Ahmad Jarba, the leader of Syria's opposition National Coalition, said Sunday that the US-led "Friends of Syria" grouping had agreed that President Bashar al-Assad and his family will have no role in the country's future. Jarba did not announce whether or not the opposition would take part in peace talks with representatives of Assad's regime due to start next week in Switzerland. The Coalition, which is under intense pressure to confirm its participation, has said it will decide on the issue on January 17. am/ric

Russia tells US it will continue backing Assad

Russian officials told visiting US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Friday that Moscow would continue backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's campaign against rebel forces despite peace talks due later this month. Sherman's visit came ahead of talks in Paris on Monday between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that are due to focus on Moscow's push to give Iran a formal seat at the so-called Geneva 2 negotiations despite opposition from Washington.

Russia tells US it will continue backing Assad

Russian officials told visiting US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Friday that Moscow would continue backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's campaign against rebel forces despite peace talks due later this month. Sherman's visit came ahead of talks in Paris on Monday between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that are due to focus on Moscow's push to give Iran a formal seat at the so-called Geneva 2 negotiations despite opposition from Washington.

Syria opposition holds first "unified" meet ahead of peace talks

By Oliver Holmes CORDOBA, Spain (Reuters) - Disparate Syrian opposition groups, including several Islamist rebel representatives, met for the first time in the Spanish city of Cordoba to seek common ground ahead of peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government later this month. After nearly three years of conflict the opposition has fractured into competing groups with different regional backers and the West is pushing to gather a unified body of opposition members to attend negotiations on January 22, dubbed "Geneva 2".

Influential Syrian opposition bloc says will shun peace talks

By Dasha Afanasieva ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An influential bloc within the Western-backed Syrian opposition decided on Saturday to shun talks aimed at ending the nearly three-year conflict, citing the international community's inaction. The Syrian National Council has opposed attending the January 22 negotiations, dubbed "Geneva 2", because it says world powers have not done enough to force President Bashar al-Assad to cede power.

Syria's Assad urges fight against Saudi religious ideology

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad Monday called for a battle against Wahhabism, the political and religious ideology embraced by the Saudi government, a key backer of the uprising against his regime. The comments came amid ongoing tensions between the two countries, which are fiercely opposed to each other. "President Assad said that extremist and Wahhabi thought distort the real Islam, which is tolerant," state news agency SANA said. "He underlined the role of men of religion in fighting against Wahhabi thought, which is foreign to our societies," the agency said.

Syria's Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents. It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.

Assad says Syria facing major extremist offensive

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict for almost three years, said Monday his country is being confronted by a major offensive by Islamist extremists. "The country is facing a takfiri ideology," Assad said, using a term for Sunni Muslim extremists. "This is terrorism without limits, an international scourge that could strike anywhere and anytime," he said, quoted by the official SANA news agency.

Assad says Syria facing major extremist offensive

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict for almost three years, said Monday his country is being confronted by a major offensive by Islamist extremists. "The country is facing a takfiri ideology," Assad said, using a term for Sunni Muslim extremists. "This is terrorism without limits, an international scourge that could strike anywhere and anytime," he said, quoted by the official SANA news agency.

Syria bombards Aleppo, killing hundreds ahead of talks

Syrian warplanes have killed more than 300 people, including 87 children, in an eight-day bombing campaign in the second city of Aleppo a month before planned peace talks. The vicious air campaign has seen regime aircraft drop barrels of TNT onto rebel-held neighbourhoods -- a tactic widely condemned as unlawful -- flooding hospitals with victims, according to activists, medics and others.
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