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Syria Ready to Meet Opposition in Russia

A road sign that reads 'back to Aleppo' is seen at the main north-south highway linking Aleppo with Damascus, near the Wadi al-Deif military base that the rebel fighters took control of from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad earlier this m

Syria's government says it is willing to meet the country's opposition in Moscow to seek an end to the nearly four-year civil war.

The Foreign Ministry said Saturday it is ready to participate in "a preliminary and consultative meeting" in Russia to find a solution to the crisis.

However, obstacles remain in finding a path to peace. The militant Islamic State group that controls a third of Syria has not been part of any initiative to end the fighting. Other opposition groups are not unified in their response to the prospect of meeting with Syrian officials in Moscow.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the meeting between Syria and the opposition was expected to take place in late January and would be "informal."

Efforts earlier this year to bring a diplomatic end to the crisis, including two rounds of U.N.-brokered peace talks, made little progress.

Syria's conflict began as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, but quickly spiraled into a civil war that has left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

The U.N. said this month that 12.2 million Syrians now need humanitarian aid, including 7.6 million displaced within Syria and nearly four million more in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.