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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.

U.S. caution over Syria talks prompts opposition doubts

By Dasha Afanasieva ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Senior Syrian opposition figures are questioning whether they should attend peace talks next month following U.S. warnings that the swift departure of President Bashar al-Assad from power cannot be guaranteed, opposition sources said on Friday. Speaking after meeting U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford in Istanbul this week, they said he had told them not to expect quick results from the talks, due to start in Switzerland on January 22, and that it was not up to Washington to remove Assad.

Nobody can stop Assad from running again

The Syrian government said Thursday that nobody can prevent the country's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year. "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticised statements that he wanted to seek another term. "President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he said.

Nobody can stop Assad from running again

The government said Thursday that nobody can prevent Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year. "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticised statements that he wanted to stay in office. sk/ram/hc/hkb

Russia signals to Syria's Assad to stay silent on re-election

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian diplomat signaled on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should refrain from statements suggesting he might seek re-election because it could fuel tension before planned peace talks. Russia has been Assad's most important international ally during Syria's civil war, but the remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to Interfax news agency appeared to be a rare public criticism of Assad by Moscow.
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