Moscow’s call for opposition to talk with Assad rejected



ALEPPO, SYRIA // Russia invited the leader of Syria’s opposition yesterday to visit for the first time, but the opposition swiftly dismissed a renewed call by Moscow for talks with President Bashar Al Assad’s government to end the civil war.

With the rebels advancing over the second half of this year, diplomats have been searching for months for signs that Mr Al Assad's main international backer, Moscow, will withdraw its protection.

So far Russia has stuck to its position that rebels must negotiate with the regime, which has ruled since Mr Al Assad's father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.

"I think a realistic and detailed assessment of the situation inside Syria will prompt reasonable opposition members to seek ways to start a political dialogue," Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday.

That was immediately dismissed by the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

"The coalition is ready for political talks with anyone ... but it will not negotiate with the Assad regime," said spokesman Walid Al Bunni.

"Everything can happen after the Assad regime and all its foundations have gone. After that we can sit down with all Syrians to set out the future."

Moscow's Middle East envoy, the deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, also invited the opposition coalition leader, Moaz Alkhatib, to visit, its first overture to the head of the body formed last month and since recognised by most western and Arab states as Syria's legitimate representative. That invitation was also rejected.

The UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, fresh from a five-day trip to Damascus where he met Mr Al Assad, was due in Moscow for talks today. Mr Brahimi has been touting a months-old peace plan which calls for a transitional government.

That UN plan has long been widely seen as a dead letter, foundering at the outset over the question of whether the transitional body would include Mr Al Assad or his allies.

With rebels having seized control of large sections of the country in recent months, Russia and the United States have been working with Mr Brahimi to resurrect the peace plan as the only internationally recognised diplomatic negotiating track.

Mr Bogdanov said further talks were scheduled between the "three Bs", himself, Mr Brahimi and William Burns, the US undersecretary of state.

Speaking in Damascus on Thursday, Mr Brahimi called for a transitional government with "all the powers of the state", a phrase interpreted by the opposition as potentially signalling tolerance of Mr Al Assad remaining in a ceremonial role.

"We do not agree at all with Brahimi's initiative. We do not agree with anything Brahimi says," Colonel Abdel Jabbar Oqaidi, who heads the rebels' military council in Aleppo province, said from his headquarters there.

"We will not allow anyone to trade in the blood of the martyrs of Syria and the sacrifices that Syrians have made by having someone propose any proposal that keeps Bashar Al Assad" in office.

Col Oqaidi said the rebels want Mr Al Assad and his allies tried in Syria for crimes. Mr Al Assad has said he will stay on and fight to the death if necessary.

Two Syrian air force generals defected to Turkey yesterday, Turkey's foreign ministry said. The defections came as rebels besieged the military air base of Mannagh near the Turkish border.

Fighting in Syria has killed about 44,000 people and continues unabated. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, 150 people were killed on Thursday, a typical toll as fighting has escalated in recent months.

Government jets bombarded the town of Assal Al Ward in the Qalamoun district of Damascus province for the first time, killing one person and wounding dozens, the observatory said.

The bombardment may have included areas in Qalamoun from which the army withdrew on Thursday, the observatory said. Its accounts could not be verified.

In Aleppo, Syria's northern commercial hub, clashes took place between rebel fighters and army forces around an air force intelligence building in the Zahira quarter, a neighbourhood that has been surrounded by rebels for weeks.

Most of the dead have been civilians. Both sides have committed atrocities, although the United Nations says government forces and their allies have been more culpable.

Footage uploaded to the internet yesterday showed young men beating the bloody corpse of another man with a stick. One reaches down with a knife and gleefully slices off an ear.

Opposition activists said the footage showed government-allied militia members desecrating bodies, but its provenance could not be confirmed.

The Pope's itinerary

Sunday, February 3, 2019 - Rome to Abu Dhabi
1pm: departure by plane from Rome / Fiumicino to Abu Dhabi
10pm: arrival at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport


Monday, February 4
12pm: welcome ceremony at the main entrance of the Presidential Palace
12.20pm: visit Abu Dhabi Crown Prince at Presidential Palace
5pm: private meeting with Muslim Council of Elders at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
6.10pm: Inter-religious in the Founder's Memorial


Tuesday, February 5 - Abu Dhabi to Rome
9.15am: private visit to undisclosed cathedral
10.30am: public mass at Zayed Sports City – with a homily by Pope Francis
12.40pm: farewell at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport
1pm: departure by plane to Rome
5pm: arrival at the Rome / Ciampino International Airport

Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva

Director: Ayan Mukerji

Stars: Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan

Rating: 2/5

The low down

Producers: Uniglobe Entertainment & Vision Films

Director: Namrata Singh Gujral

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Nargis Fakhri, Bo Derek, Candy Clark

Rating: 2/5

FIRST TEST SCORES

England 458
South Africa 361 & 119 (36.4 overs)

England won by 211 runs and lead series 1-0

Player of the match: Moeen Ali (England)

WORLD'S 10 HIGHEST MOUNTAINS

1. Everest
2. K2
3. Kangchenjunga
4. Lhotse
5. Makalu
6. Cho Oyu
7. Dhaulagiri
8. Manaslu
9. Nanga Parbat
10. Annapurna

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
What is cystic fibrosis?
  • Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs, pancreas and other organs.
  • It causes the production of thick, sticky mucus that can clog the airways and lead to severe respiratory and digestive problems.
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  • Life expectancy for sufferers of cystic fibrosis is now around 50 years.
Asia Cup 2018 final

Who: India v Bangladesh

When: Friday, 3.30pm, Dubai International Stadium

Watch: Live on OSN Cricket HD

Company profile

Company name: amana
Started: 2010
Founders: Karim Farra and Ziad Aboujeb
Based: UAE
Regulator: DFSA
Sector: Financial services
Current number of staff: 85
Investment stage: Self-funded

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets