HOPES PINNED ON ‘LONDON 11’ SUMMIT
DAMASCUS, Oct 20 — At least 37 people, mostly civilians, were killed on Sunday in a bomb explosion in Syria’s Hama governorate, reports Xinhua. A bomb placed in a booby-trapped truck went off at a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Hama city, the governorate’s capital, in the morning injuring many others.
The blast came a day after activists said a suicide car bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle at a military checkpoint in Mlaiha suburb of the capital Damascus, killing at least 16 soldiers. “At least 31 people, including regime troops, were killed when a man detonated a truck laden with explosives at a checkpoint near an agricultural vehicles company on the road linking Hama to Salamiyeh,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based watchdog said the death toll was likely to rise, as “there are dozens of wounded, some of them in critical condition.” State television had earlier reported multiple casualties from a bombing in Hama without giving a more precise casualty toll.
In the first months after the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011, Hama saw some of the largest demonstrations against his rule.
But in late summer of that year, security forces stormed the city, killing scores of people. They have held a tight grip on the city ever since.
While several other Syrian cities have been engulfed by fighting, Hama has seen only sporadic violence in recent months. However, the surrounding province has seen some major clashes between troops and rebels. In a bid to push for long-delayed peace talks in Geneva with the Assad regime, Western and Arab powers will meet with Syria’s opposition on Tuesday.
London 11 Summit
The conference in London will bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.
The “London 11” also includes Britain, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the nations would “discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the (opposition) Syrian National Coalition, and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict.”
After a meeting Sunday in Cairo with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi said the so-called Geneva 2 talks would be held November 23.
But Brahimi cautioned that the meeting would not be convened without a “credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people” opposed to Assad.
World powers are focusing on a political solution to the war in Syria after Washington dropped plans for US-led strikes in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime.
Russia and Western nations are pushing for new talks between the Syrian regime and rebels on a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since March 2011.
But the opposition’s Western and Arab backers are facing resistance from some among the rebels to attending the Geneva 2 talks as long as Assad remains in power.
The opposition Coalition has agreed to attend the London conference, saying it would focus on “these countries’ understandings about Geneva 2 and what it should result in.”
The peace talks aim to map a path forward toward a political transition in Syria, and put in place a transitional government.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has led efforts with Moscow to find a political resolution to the war, was returning to Europe for the talks in his 16th trip since taking office in February. Kerry told National Public Radio the talks in London are aimed at “trying to move the process forward.”
“We’re working toward this Geneva conference, not that we know what the outcome is,” Kerry said. Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are willing to take part in the Geneva peace talks, but not with any preconditions such as Assad’s resignation.
The opposition Coalition is also to hold internal discussions in Istanbul this week that should culminate with votes on whether to attend the Geneva talks and on the formation of a transitional government.
In a sign of the deep divisions over the Geneva talks, the Syrian National Council, a key member of the Coalition, has already said it opposes the conference and threatened to quit the grouping if it takes part.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris was working with the opposition ahead of the talks in London on building a united front for the Geneva conference.
“We want the opposition to be united at this conference. It is important that it be united and strong to influence the outcome,” he said.
Britain believes the Coalition’s fresh leadership — Ahmad Jarba was elected its new chief in July — could make progress on ending internal debates.
London will also be keen at the talks to support moderate elements in the opposition, so Assad cannot present himself as the only alternative to the radical Islamists who have taken on an increasingly prominent role among Syria’s rebels. Syria’s close ally Russia, which helped to avert the US-led military action by brokering a deal to dispose of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, is not attending the London meeting.—Agencies
State media blamed the attack on “terrorists”, the term it uses to describe fighters trying to topple Assad