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Syria Peace Talks ‘Scheduled for November’

DOHA, Oct 17 2013 - International peace talks on the Syria conflict could take place next month, Syria’s deputy prime minister has said.

Qadri Jamil, speaking in Moscow on Thursday, said the long-delayed international conference aimed at bringing the Syrian government and opposition together to seek an end to the country’s civil war would take place Nov. 23-24.

“Geneva is a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition,” Jamil was quoted as saying.

“Whoever realises this first will benefit. Whoever does not realise it will find himself overboard, outside the political process.”

Jamil named the dates when he was asked whether plans for the so-called Geneva 2 conference, which Russia and the U.S. have been trying to organise since May, had been pushed back from mid-November to late November or December.

When contacted by Al Jazeera, his office in Damascus said Jamil was speaking in his capacity as a member of an opposition delegation and not on behalf of the Syrian government.

Asked about Jamil’s comments, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said it was not up to the Syrian government to name a date for the talks.

“I can neither confirm nor deny the dates mentioned by Mr Qadri Jamil,” Lukashevich said.

“This is a matter for the U.N. Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon], under whose auspices this forum will be held. We will wait for his … official announcement of these dates.”

Russia and Western nations led by the U.S. have been pushing the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to meet to try to hammer out a negotiated solution to the two-and-half year-old conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people.

However, George Sabra, who heads the Syrian National Council, the largest member of the opposition National Coalition, has already said his group would not attend the talks in Geneva.

Against this backdrop, the world’s chemical-weapons watchdog said it had completed nearly half its inspections of the country’s arsenal with a view to its destruction by mid-2014.

Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Antakya in neighbouring Turkey, said The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had expressed confidence in completing the operation within the designated period.

The OPCW is due to finish the first stage of its mandate by the beginning of next month.

Fighting in the north

On the ground, meanwhile, fighting between the Syrian army and anti-government fighters at a prison in the northern city of Aleppo eased a day after they assaulted the facility, activists said on Thursday.

Rebel forces had launched an attack on the government-controlled prison on Wednesday night, in the heaviest fighting for the jail in months, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based activists’ network.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, al Qaeda-linked fighters came under fire from the Turkish army after a stray mortar landed across the border, Turkish officials said.

In a separate development on Thursday, Abu Dhabi-based channel Sky News Arabia said that its crew had gone missing in the contested city of Aleppo in northern Syria.

The TV station said it lost contact on Tuesday morning with reporter Ishak Moctar, a Mauritanian national; cameraman Samir Kassab, a Lebanese national; and their Syrian driver whose name was being withheld at his family’s request.

Nart Bouran, Sky News Arabia chief, said the crew was on assignment primarily to focus on the humanitarian aspects of the conflict in Aleppo.

The channel appealed for any information on the team’s whereabouts and for help to ensure the journalists’ safe return.

Since Syria’s uprising erupted in March 2011, the country has become the most dangerous in the world for journalists, according to press freedom advocate groups.

Dozens of journalists have been kidnapped and more than 25 have been killed while reporting in Syria since the conflict began.

Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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