February 17, 2013 7:19 pm

Brahimi backs Syria opposition call for talks

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi lent his support on Sunday to a Syrian opposition leader’s offer of talks with the regime, in a bid to revive faint hopes for a negotiated solution to the country’s nearly two-year-old crisis.

Speaking after talks at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Mr Brahimi said that Moaz al Khatib’s offer had “opened the door” and noted that the Syrian government had “continuously” declared itself ready for dialogue.

“We believe that if a dialogue begins at the offices of the United Nations, at least at the start, between the opposition and an acceptable delegation from the Syrian government, we think this will be a start to get out of the dark tunnel,” he said.

Mr Khatib’s offer has attracted both controversy and international interest since it was first made at the end of last month, breaking an opposition taboo which held that negotiations were not possible while president Bashar al Assad was still in power.

Mr Khatib, who heads a divided and fractious coalition of the regime’s political opponents, some of whom reacted furiously to his proposal, subsequently clarified that the goal of negotiations must be Mr Assad’s departure.

Analysts say the regime does not feel itself militarily weak enough to make serious concessions, however, and doubt that progress on a negotiated solution to the conflict will take place beyond point-scoring and process issues.

“I don’t believe there’s any imminent breakthrough possible,” said Salman Shaikh, of the Doha Brookings Center, a think-tank.

The conflict which is already estimated to have claimed over 60,000 lives, raged on throughout Syria on Sunday.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, clashes took place in the southern edge of Damascus, where rebels have been putting pressure on the regime but failing to break through to the city centre.

Fighting and regime bombardments took place in many different parts of the country, the Observatory said.

The weekend also saw the second major blackout in parts of Damascus and the south in the past few weeks. Electricity in these areas went out on Saturday night but was mostly restored by Sunday afternoon.

Imad Khamis, electricity minister, told the state news agency SANA, that technical teams were working around the clock to restore power in the south. He blamed the blackout on an unspecified fault in high-tension lines.

A similar blackout struck the same areas last month. The government blamed that outage on a rebel attack, and power was restored to most areas the following day.

Additional reporting by agencies

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