The leader of al-Qaida is calling on rebels in Syria to stop their infighting and focus on the battle against President Bashar al-Assad. This development comes as the U.N. peace envoy met separately with Syrian rebels and the government to try to mediate an end to nearly three years of deadly violence.
Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri delivered the message in an audio recording posted Thursday on websites used by militant groups. His whereabouts are not known and the authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified, though analysts said the voice bore a resemblance to the al-Qaida leader.
Al-Qaida-linked insurgents have clashed in recent weeks with other rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government.
In Geneva, U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was holding separate discussions with representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to decide how to proceed to the next step of direct negotiations. Those talks were scheduled to begin Friday.
Efforts to find a negotiated settlement have made little progress, largely due to disagreements over Assad's future.
In the Swiss city of Davos, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told representatives at the World Economic Forum that "the best solution" in Syria is to hold free and fair elections without foreign intervention.
Iranian support has been key to Assad's hold on power in the war-torn country. Iran was uninvited to the peace conference for Syria when it rejected a possible transitional government. Rouhani has said Tehran's exclusion means the talks are likely to fail.