Obama, Cameron to discuss Syria amid push for political deal

AFP , Monday 13 May 2013

On 23 May, US and Russia will convene a peace conference centered around the Syrian conflict in order to develop a deal begun in Geneva last year and establish a transitional government

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron meet at the White House on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis as the international community presses efforts to find a political solution.

Inside Syria, the army gained ground in the strategic central province of Homs, and captured the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, a watchdog group said, as Turkey accused Damascus of responsibility for deadly bombings in the town of Reyhanli.

Cameron is coming from Russia, where he met with President Vladimir Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's staunchest allies.

Despite backing opposite sides in the conflict, now in its third year, Washington and Moscow announced last week a new bid to find a political solution to the violence.

They want to convene an international conference to build on a deal agreed in Geneva last year that called for a halt to the violence and the establishment of a transitional government.

It was criticised by the Syrian opposition for failing to call for Assad's departure, and while the Syrian National Coalition has welcomed the US-Russian bid, it has not yet said if it will attend any new conference.

The group is set to meet on 23 May  in Istanbul to decide whether it will participate or not, a spokesman told AFP.

Also on the diplomatic front, the Kremlin announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold talks on Tuesday with Putin on the conflict in Syria, amid concerns Moscow plans to deliver advanced missiles to the Damascus regime.

"It is expected that major attention will be paid to the current situation in the Middle East, first and foremost in Syria," the Kremlin said in a statement, adding without elaborating that the talks would take place in Russia.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Israel had provided information to Washington about the imminent sale to Syria of Russian S-300 missile batteries, advanced ground-to-air weapons that can take out aircraft or guided missiles.

The new international push comes as the European Union warned Sunday that the humanitarian aid community was at "breaking point" because of the scale of needs created by the conflict.

EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva issued the warning as she visited Syrian refugees in Jordan and unveiled 65 million euros ($84 million) in additional aid.

"Unless all those involved in the fighting, as well as the international community, find a political solution to the violence very soon the humanitarian community will simply be unable to cope with the unprecedented scale of the needs -- we are already at breaking point," Georgieva said.

The violence of the conflict has also spilled over into Syria's neighbours, with Turkey accusing Damascus of being behind car bombings near the border that killed 46 people on Saturday.

The Syrian government denied involvement in the twin car bombs that sowed death in Reyhanli on Saturday but Ankara said it was holding suspects who had confessed and accused Damascus of dragging Turkey into its civil war.

Inside Syria, the army gained ground in central Homs region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog reported.

Backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, the military has seized much of the Qusayr area in the province, which connects the capital Damascus to the coast.

In southern Daraa meanwhile, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising against Assad, the army secured control of the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, on the route between Damascus and the Jordanian border.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground, also reported fighting in Damascus province and air strike in northern Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

On Sunday, the group said it has documented the deaths of some 82,257 people since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, including 34,473 civilians.

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