Syria hands Aleppo ceasefire plan to Russia, wants prisoner swap

by Reuters
Friday, 17 January 2014 11:30 GMT

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By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Friday he had handed Russia plans for a ceasefire with rebel forces in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, and was ready to exchange lists on a possible prisoner swap.

Washington and Moscow have been trying to negotiate some confidence-building measures between the warring sides and allow humanitarian aid to flow to areas worst hit in the nearly three-year-old civil war.

"I count on the success of this plan if all sides carry out their obligations," Moualem told a joint news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before a planned peace conference on Syria in Switzerland next week.

"We would like this to serve as an example to other towns," Moualem said of the plan for Aleppo, he said.

He and Lavrov underlined the closeness of their countries' views on the peace conference in Montreux starting on Jan. 22. Russia is Syria's most powerful international protector and arms supplier

Lavrov held talks on Thursday with Moualem and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and called for Iran to be represented at the conference, but Lavrov said their meeting was not part of a "hidden agenda".

Sitting beside Moualem, Lavrov criticised factions in the Syrian opposition that have yet to decide whether to take part in the peace conference.

"It worries us very much that some kind of game is being played," he said.

The centrist opposition National Coordination Body announced its decision not to attend, while the main umbrella opposition body in exile, known as the National Coalition, is due to decide on Friday.

Hope for a small-scale temporary ceasefire, however, has been boosted by promises from Syrian rebels backed by Washington that if the government commits to such a partial ceasefire, they would abide by it, Washington has said.

Given the history of failed attempts to end the war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions, it remains far from clear that even a partial ceasefire can be achieved or, if it is, can hold for long.

It also seems unlikely to be honoured by powerful militant Islamist rebel factions, some of whom are at war with both Damascus and other rebel groups backed by the West and Gulf states.

Moualem said Damascus had also put together a list of prisoners and was ready to take part in a prisoner exchange. (Editing by Will Waterman)

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