Russia: Syria Is Ready to Talk

But opposition rejects offer, as fighting rages outside Damascus

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 30, 2012 12:56 PM CST

(Newser) – With fighting raging outside Damascus, Syria's regime has indicated that it is open to "informal" talks with opposition leaders in Moscow, Russian officials announced today. But the Syrian National Council swiftly rejected the idea, saying it wouldn’t talk until President Bashar al-Assad stepped down, al-Jazeera reports. Russia's foreign ministry chided it for that, telling it to "put the interests of the Syrian people before any other ideas."

"We rejected the Russian proposal because they wanted us to talk with the regime while it continues the killings, the torture, the imprisonment," the SNC told Reuters. Russia is one of Assad's few allies, selling him weapons and blocking UN action against him. Its overtures came as government and rebel forces battled near the capital, leaving at least 15 dead. The SNC fears that security forces will "massacre" hundreds of men rounded up in the nearby town of Rankus, which was raided this morning.

This image from amateur video made available by the Ugarit News group and shot on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, purports to show a funeral in Damascus, Syria.   (AP Photo/Ugarit News Group via APTN)
Protesters shout slogans as they carry pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian flags during a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 29.   (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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