PHOTO: President of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja
Talks among Syria’s opposition and rebel groups begin in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, in an effort to establish a bloc before negotiations with the Assad regime.
More than 100 representatives have been invited, including members from the externally-based Syrian National Coalition and the domestically-based National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change. There are also 15 delegates from units of the Free Syrian Army and rebel factions such as Ahrar al-Sham.
Zahran Alloush, the leader of the prominent faction Jaish al-Islam, said he would not attend because the route of the group’s base near Damascus is now “out of control”. However, representatives of Jaish al-Islam’s political office, will participate.
However, the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) has not been invited, despite pressure from the US Government for its inclusion in the three-day discussions.
Syrian Kurdish factions will convene in a two-day conference on Tuesday in northeast Syria and will include Kurds. Organizers said the Assyrian Democratic Party, Arab figures, and religious leaders will also attend.
Rebel Counter-Offensive Retakes Village South of Aleppo
A rebel counter-offensive has reportedly retaken a village south of Aleppo, further denting regime efforts to reach the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway.
Footage from the fighting:
Foreign-led regime forces had moved into Banes last month in the south Aleppo campaign, the most successful of the five offensives — covered by Russian airstrikes and including Iranian, Hezbollah, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan forces — against rebels.
However, the regime had been unable to reach its goal of control of the M5 highway.
The capture of Banes overtook earlier reports of a regime advance near Khan Touman, 10 km (6 miles) southwest of Aleppo, threatening the highway and rebel supplies from Idlib Province.
Local sources indicated that rebels used a tactic, seen before in northwest Syria, of allowing regime forces to push forward and then striking back at the extended front line.
There are unconfirmed claims of a further rebel strike on Shia militias with the regime forces, killing a numbeer of them with a large vehicle-borne bomb in al-Eis.
Regime: We Will Send 700,000 Tons of Fruit to Russia to Cover Ban on Turkish Produce
In a PR move linking both Russian pressure on Turkey and the Assad regime’s capabilities, Syrian officials have declared that Damascus Syria will export more than 700,000 tons of citrus fruits to Russia to “fill the gap” left by Moscow’s ban on Turkish agricultural products.
“We are preparing some 700,000 tons of citrus, mostly oranges, to send to Russian markets,” Fares Chehabi, head of Syria’s Chambers of Industry, said. “The first shipment has already left for Russia.”
Chehabi said other Syrian goods, such as textile products, would also be sent to Russia.
Russia banned imports of Turkish produce last month after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Samer Debes, head of the Damascus Chamber of Industry, told State news agency SANA the shipments provided “a real opportunity” for Syrian goods in the Russian market.
These sanctions “create an important gap and suddenly a real opportunity for Syrian products,” Debes said.
If Syria did send 700,000 tons, it would be more than 2/3rds of the country’s entire output of citrus fruits in the 2014-2015 season.