Syria peace talks framed by suicide bombs and diplomatic moves


As diplomats continue to travel and talk in their efforts to bring Syria's ruthless war to a political and peaceful resolution, death and violence in the war-ravaged nation continue with no clear end in sight.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Paris on Saturday to attend meetings with diplomats from 10 nations to discuss the war, reportedly with the intent of persuading the Syrian opposition to attend the so-called Geneva 2 peace conference.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to attend the talks – scheduled to begin in the Swiss town of Montreux on Jan. 22 – but the disparate rebel opposition has not committed itself, saying it will vote on the issue Jan. 17.

If Kerry and his fellow diplomats from the "Friends of Syria" group, which include Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan, are successful, then it will be the first time since the war began in March 2011 that Assad's government and rebels have sat down together.

Meanwhile, the war continues, with at least 700 people killed – and hundreds missing – after battles between jihadists and other rebel outfits, according to a UK-based, pro-opposition human rights group.

"From Jan. 3 to 11, the fighting killed 697 people, among them 351 rebel fighters, 246 members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and 100 civilians," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Included in those numbers are 16 suicide attacks, the Observatory reported on Sunday, after the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had battled with other rebel groups.

A rebel fighting with Ahrar al-Sham, a group battling ISIL, told Agence France-Presse that "they use suicide attacks to terrorize society as a whole into submission, not just the fighters."

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, said more than 1,000 people could have been killed, though his group, which has connections to activists inside Syria, could not be sure.

Documenting the death toll in Syria has increasingly become a dangerous and uncertain task. Earlier this week, the UN said it was near impossible to calculate the death doll.

"Gathering casualty figures in Syria has always been an exceptionally difficult exercise,” said Rupert Colville from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

But, “with the situation on the ground growing ever more complex and dangerous, and without access into the country to conduct fact-finding on the ground, it has become increasingly difficult for us to source and analyze the casualty figures in order to update them,” he added. 

It's thought more than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria. Millions more have been displaced.

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