Khatib: no 'clear' response from Syrian regime on talks offer
CAIRO - The head of Syria's opposition coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, said Monday he had received "no clear response" from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over his offer of dialogue.
Khatib said in late January he was prepared to hold direct talks with regime representatives who did not have "blood on their hands," and so long as the discussions addressed replacing Assad.
"The issue is now in the regime's camp. It has given no clear response yet that it accepts that (Assad) will leave. There has been no official contact until now," Khatib told reporters in Cairo after talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
"I am sending a last message to the regime, so that it tries to understand the suffering of the Syrian people, because the revolution will continue and will never stop," he added.
"We call on the regime... to leave in order to avoid more bloodshed and destruction. We don't want war, but we have nothing against continuing until we die so that Syria can be free of this regime," he said.
The Assad regime had said it was open to talks but with no pre-conditions.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, Khatib proposed that the dialogue take place in "liberated areas," in rebel-controlled northern Syria.
Khatib's initial offer was met with support from the United States and the Arab League and also from Syria's allies Russia and Iran, with whom the opposition leader recently held talks.
But the call for dialogue also sparked tension within the opposition coalition, whose key member the Syrian National Council is vehemently opposed to talks with the regime until Assad steps down. Rebels seize Syria's largest dam
Rebels on Monday seized control of the largest dam in Syria, a vital barrier along the Euphrates River in the northern province of Raqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The rebels took control of the dam, which is still in operation. They are guarding both entrances but have forbidden the fighters from staying inside for fear the regime will bomb it," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
"This is the biggest economic loss for the regime since the start of the revolution," Abdel Rahman said of the hydraulic dam, which generates 880 megawatts of power.
He noted that while the rebels had entered the control rooms, they quickly left for fear that regime forces would retaliate by bombing the dam, possibly flooding surrounding villages.
According to the ministry of water resources website, the Euphrates dam is 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) long, 60 metres (65 yards) high and 512 metres (560 yards) wide at its base.
It holds back Lake Assad -- named for Hafez al-Assad, the father and predecessor of the current president Bashar al-Assad -- a 14.1 billion cubic metre (500 billion cubic feet) body of water.
Rebels from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and the Awayis al-Qurani and Ahrar al-Tabqa battalions also took over three districts in the adjacent town of Tabaqa inhabited by the employees and their families, the Observatory said.
The watchdog noted that the fighters met little resistance in the town, while loyalist security chiefs had fled on board military helicopters from the local airbase.