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Official: Syrian government to attend Syria II without preconditions

By CNN Staff
updated 11:13 AM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
  • Presidential adviser Shaaban says the government will attend without preconditions
  • She ridicules the opposition coalition as a front for Saudi intelligence
  • Women, children, laborers are among those killed, SANA reports.

(CNN) -- Syrian government officials will attend the international conference dubbed "Geneva II" that is charged with bringing about an end to the violence that has wracked the country since March 2011, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Wednesday.

Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told Russia Today TV on Tuesday that the government would attend without preconditions and with the goal of stopping violence and terrorism in the country, SANA reported.

She ridiculed the opposition coalition as a front for Saudi intelligence. "Who does the coalition represent?" she asked rhetorically, and then cited two groups described as terrorist by the U.S. State Department. "Is it al Qaeda or Jabhat al-Nusra?"

Shaaban described the Syrian government as a legitimate and elected representative of the Syrian people.

In Beirut, Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said in a statement issued Tuesday that Geneva II is the only solution to the crisis and that Lebanon would participate, if invited, SANA reported.

The long-delayed conference would not occur before December, Russian state news agency Itar-Tass reported Tuesday, citing a source close to talks among the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

Representatives from the United Nations, Russia and the United States met Tuesday in Geneva in hopes of ironing out a plan for the talks, which have been held up in part because many branches of the Syrian opposition have said they wouldn't attend, or wouldn't participate without preconditions.

Nineteen largely Islamist rebel groups, for example, last month flatly rejected participating. Some groups want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down before talks. And the Syrian National Coalition, a rebel umbrella group, said it wouldn't participate if Iran -- an ally of the Syrian regime -- is invited.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there will be no preconditions for the talks, Itar-Tass reported Tuesday, adding that preconditions would run counter to plans that the United States and Russia previously drew up for the conference.

The United States and Russia announced in May that they would try to bring the warring parties to a second conference in Geneva to implement the peace plan they endorsed at Geneva I in 2012, which left open the question of whether al-Assad must leave power.

Russia's semi-official Interfax News Agency reported Wednesday that Moscow has invited Syrian opposition leaders to Moscow for "informal contacts" ahead of Geneva II.

"Our proposal for informal contacts in Moscow as part of the process of organization of Geneva II would be important from the point of view of creating a favorable atmosphere, so that people can meet and discuss their issues," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told reporters.

Meanwhile, the killing continued. A bomb exploded Wednesday afternoon at the entrance to Syria's railway headquarters in the capital, killing at least eight people and wounding others, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Women, children and laborers who were doing maintenance work at the office building at Hijaz Square in central Damascus, SANA said.

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A photo published by SANA showed exterior concrete steps in pieces; another photo showed two bags of vegetables abandoned on a nearby street.

The explosion comes amid a civil war in the Middle Eastern nation. The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 after government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters during the Arab Spring movement.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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