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Date Set for Syria Peace Talks - Maybe

  • Edward Yeranian

A truck bomb explosion in Syria's fourth largest city of Hama killed more than 30 people Sunday, as the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League held talks in Cairo on fixing a date for a long-delayed peace conference.

Syrian state TV showed fire and rescue workers trying to douse a blaze from a powerful truck bomb explosion near a government checkpoint in Hama. Civilian vehicles lined up near the checkpoint were pulverized and set on fire, killing or wounding dozen of people.

Elsewhere, government artillery pounded rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus. Fighting engulfed several southern districts as well, including the Yarmouk refugee camp. Rebels also tried to take control of a main highway out of the capital from government forces.

While the violence raged, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met with the league's Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby in Cairo. El-Araby tried to sound upbeat, insisting that a long-delayed peace conference would be held in Geneva in November.

He says a preparatory meeting will be held to pave the way for the Syria peace conference due to be held in Geneva on November 23. He says much preparation is under way, but that many difficulties and obstacles still need to be overcome.

Syrian opposition forces are to meet in London this week to discuss the proposed conference. Envoy Brahimi will also visit Damascus in the next several days, according to the government daily al Watan, to help lay the groundwork for the planned talks in Geneva.

Brahimi told journalists in Cairo that no precise date has been set for the conference, called Geneva II, but that it probably would be held in November.

Brahimi indicated he has been in contact with numerous Syrian opposition figures, noting that “no conference can take place without the opposition.”

Opposition leaders have threatened to boycott the proposed peace conference unless Syria's President Bashar al-Assad agrees to step down. President Assad insists he will remain in office until his term ends in 2014, and possibly seek re-election, as well.