United Nations and Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov discussing the political crisis in the Middle Eastern state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Arab League sets date for international conference on Syria
By Europe correspondent Barbara Miller, wires
The head of the Arab League has announced a date for a long-anticipated conference on Syria to be held in Geneva.
Nabil Elaraby said international talks would be held on November 23, but that has not been confirmed by the United Nations.
Mr Elaraby made the announcement after a meeting with the UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, but Mr Brahimi did not comment on the date, leaving it unclear to what extent it is confirmed.
International efforts to end the two-and-a-half-year conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people, have stuttered.
However, last month's deal for Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons arsenal rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed 'Geneva 2'.
"I discussed the Syria file with Lakhdar Brahimi and it was decided that the Geneva meeting would take place on November 23 and arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference," Mr Elaraby said.
"Of course there are many arrangements and many obstacles and difficulties that have to be overcome."
A senior Syrian official said last week the conference was scheduled for November 23-24, but co-organisers Russia and the United States said no date had been set.
Mr Brahimi said he would travel to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Syria, as well as Geneva, to meet American, Russian and other Security Council member officials "after which a final date for the Geneva 2 conference will be announced".
Disparate opposition divided over attendance
The most important regional backer of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad is Iran.
The prospect of a peace conference raises questions over whether officials from Tehran will be invited, something Washington has resisted unless Iran states publicly it would support a transition government in Syria.
That would result in the president stepping down.
Also unclear is who, if anyone, would attend from Syria's divided opposition coalition.
Najib Ghadbian, the opposition coalition's US representative, said an important component of the coalition had decided against taking part, but other members of the umbrella group could still decide to go, assuming Mr Assad was not there.
The government has said it would not consider any deal that required the president to step down.
Mr Brahimi, who earlier said there would be no preconditions to attending the peace talks, said on Sunday the opposition was facing "many problems".
"A conference will not be convened without a convincing opposition that represents an important part of Syria's opposition population," he said.
Britain's foreign secretary William Hague is hosting international talks on Syria this week in London.
Foreign ministers from 11 countries will attend, including Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the US and Saudi Arabia.
Syria's brutal civil war continues
In the latest violence at least 31 people, including regime troops, were killed in a suicide bombing close to the city of Hama.
"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 UK-based watchdog said the death toll was likely to rise, as "there are dozens of wounded, some of them in critical condition".
The blast "hit an area with busy traffic, just as a truck carrying gas for home use was passing," according to the state news agency SANA.
Pro-regime broadcaster Al-Ikhbariya aired footage from the scene of the blast, showing widespread damage.
In the first months after the uprising against Mr 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 government troops and rebels.