Syria proposes prisoner swap

BBC Online :
Syria’s foreign minister has said Damascus is ready to offer a prisoner exchange with rebels.
Speaking in Moscow, Walid Muallem also said he had presented a ceasefire plan for the second city Aleppo to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
The moves came as the opposition Syrian National Coalition prepares to meet in Istanbul to decide whether to go to next week’s peace conference.
The coalition is under Western pressure to participate in the Geneva II talks.
However, many of its members have already pulled out.
Some are reluctant to go unless President Bashar al-Assad is excluded from any transitional government, but Damascus says there should be no pre-conditions for the talks. The three-year conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
An estimated two million people have fled the country and some 6.5 million have been internally displaced.
Muallem said he was ready to exchange lists of prisoners.
“I informed Lavrov of our principled position in favour of an agreement to exchange those held in Syrian prisons for those taken by the other side,” he said.
“We are ready to exchange lists and develop the necessary mechanism for accomplishing these goals.”
The Syrian foreign minister added that he had given Russia a ceasefire plan for Aleppo, which he said he wanted to “serve as an example to other towns”.
But correspondents say it remains far from clear that even a partial ceasefire could be achieved.
On Thursday, the two foreign ministers held talks with Iranian officials.
Lavrov said there was “no hidden agenda” to their meeting. “This does not mean that we have some tri-party (peace) draft,” he told reporters.
Lavrov is keen for Iran to be part of the peace talks, but US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Tehran must first agree to the Geneva I communique which calls for a political transition in Syria.
The Syrian National Coalition is deeply divided, with its key bloc – the Syrian National Council – threatening to boycott the talks.
Of the 120 members of the coalition, 44 have already pulled out of the meeting in Switzerland.
But all of them – and their regional backers such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia – are under huge pressure from the Americans and others to take up the opportunity to achieve the goals of the Syrian revolution, the BBC’s Jim Muir in Lebanon reports.
However, our correspondent says that the coalition – if it goes to the talks – will be really weak, with huge doubts about how representative it is, as virtually none of the major fighting forces on the ground favour talking to the government.
Although the coalition is widely regarded abroad as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, several other opposition alliances and powerful Islamist rebel groups refuse to recognise its authority.
In the past fortnight alone, more than 1,000 people have been killed in battles between rebel forces and jihadist fighters, an activist group reports.
On the eve of the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the opposition to join.
Kerry stressed that their aim was to begin the process of setting up a transitional government to end the war in Syria.
“The United States urges a positive vote,” Kerry said.
He described the 21 January Swiss peace conference as the beginning of a process “that is the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution”.