Syria says peace conference set for November 23-24
The Syrian government on Thursday said the international conference aimed at ending the country's 31-month conflict would take place on November 23-24.
Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil gave the dates after talks in Moscow, Russian media reported.
A member of the Syrian National Coalition said that the main opposition grouping would meet later this month to make a final decision on whether to attend the conference, planned by Russia and the United States in Geneva.
“The coalition will decide on its participation during a meeting to be held in Turkey between the 23rd and 24th of October,” Munzer Makhous told dpa by phone from Paris.
Russia, a major ally of Damascus, and the United States, which recently threatened a military intervention in Syria, have for months been pushing for the Geneva talks.
However, failure to agree on the list of participants and dates has held up the process.
The Syrian National Council, another key opposition group, has rejected the talks, saying they could not be held while Syrians continue to suffer under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The council has threatened to quit the Syrian National Coalition if it agreed to go to Geneva.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will represent the government at the talks.
Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Thursday that it had completed nearly half its inspections of Syria's chemical weapon arsenal.
"We have done nearly 50 per cent of the verification work of the facilities that have been declared to us," the BBC Arabic Radio station quoted Malik Ellahi, a political advisor on Syria for the OPCW, as telling journalists in The Hague.
On Wednesday the disarmament experts said they had verified 11 out of 20 designated chemical sites in Syria.
The watchdog is confident it will be able to meet deadlines to destroy Syria's arsenal.
The organization, winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, said it aimed at verifying Syria's chemical weapons programme, identifying key equipment and making production facilities inoperable by November 1.
A joint team from the United Nations and OPCW began earlier this month destroying arms and production facilities in Syria under a US-Russian plan backed by a UN Security Council resolution to rid the country of its chemical stockpile by mid-2014.
Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands was on Wednesday appointed to lead the joint mission. She had until now served as an assistant secretary general at the UN Development Programme.
Earlier, a senior Syrian intelligence official was killed during fighting in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.
State television ran a news flash saying: "Martyrdom of General Jameh Jameh while performing his patriotic duty defending Syria and its people and pursuing the terrorists."
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described Jameh as "one of the most prominent security figures in Syria."
In 2004, Jameh was in charge of security in Beirut when former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri was killed in an explosion in the area.
Jameh was implicated in the assassination - which led to the end of Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon. The United States placed Jameh on a blacklist over the assassination. He was subsequently questioned by a UN team investigating the killing.
In Rome, Pope Francis expressed "grave concerns" over the situation in Syria and appealed for an end to violence.
“It is hoped that dialogue and reconciliation may supplant the logic of violence as soon as possible,” he said in a statement released by the Vatican.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict that started with peaceful protests in March 2011, according to UN estimates.