Syrian opposition rejects De Mistura proposal to keep Assad
Syria's opposition rejected a proposal from the UN envoy brokering peace talks in Geneva that would have kept Bashar al-Assad as president with three deputies of his opponents' choosing, AFP reported on Saturday.
Staffan de Mistura made the proposal for Assad to remain in office during a transitional period to the High Negotiations Committee [HNC], Syria's Saudi-backed opposition group, during a meeting late Friday.
"He proposed that president Bashar al-Assad would appoint three vice presidents that we choose, and that he would transfer his military and political prerogatives to them," a HNC source said.
"Effectively, Assad would stay in a ceremonial position... But we categorically rejected the proposal," the source added.
The HNC and the Syrian regime delegation were in Geneva for a fresh round of talks aimed at resolving Syria's five-year war.
While the opposition insists on forming a transitional governing body without Assad but with regime "diplomats and technocrats," the regime claims it wants a broader "unity government" for the transitional period.
They are "sending a strong message that [the regime] doesn't want a political solution but it's seeking a military solution that will bring destruction to the whole country," HNC representative Asaad al-Zoubi said.
The US, which also backs the HNC, weighed in on the prospect of a political solution for Syria involving Assad.
"The opposition delegation arrived in Geneva to discuss a political transition for a post-Assad Syria," US regional spokesman Jerad Caplan told The New Arab.
"Washington [...] has repeatedly emphasised that Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and must immediately handover power and has no place in Syria's future," Caplan said.
|Washington [...] has repeatedly emphasised that Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and must immediately handover power
-US regional spokesman
"The ongoing negotiations in Geneva should seek to establish a new Syria without Assad as well as stress that there is no role for Assad in Syria, and America's position on this will not change in future," he said.
No let-up in fighting
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Meanwhile, fighting escalated between pro-government forces, rebels and Islamic State [IS] militants in northern Syria.
At least 30,000 people have fled from their shelters near Syria's Turkish border as battles intensified between opposition fighters and IS, Human Rights Watch reported.
Humanitarian workers warned that the fighting will trigger new wave of civilian displacement.
IS militants made some gains in northern Syria on Saturday, capturing both government-held and rebel-held areas.
|Humanitarian workers warned that the fighting will trigger new wave of civilian displacement|
The northern province of Aleppo borders Turkey and is crisis-crossed with strategic supply routes for all of Syria's warring factions.
IS fighters seized on Saturday another border village in their offensive against rebel groups in the province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"IS gains have cut off opposition territory around Azaz from rebels in the town of Dudyan further east," the Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
"Now the rebels in Dudyan are practically surrounded by IS," he added.
The militants also made some advances against government forces near Khanasser, a battleground town southeast of Aleppo that has changed hands several times.
The road through Khanasser is the sole link between government-held areas in and around Aleppo and those in the rest of the country.
In Aleppo itself, two civilians were killed by rebel fire on a residential neighbourhood in the government-held west of the city, the Observatory said.
Aleppo was once Syria's commercial hub, but since rebels seized eastern districts in 2012 a front line has carved through the heart of the city.
The escalating clashes in Aleppo province have strained a fragile ceasefire in place since February 27, and left more than 200 combatants dead in the past week.
IS and its militant rival Al-Qaeda are not party to the truce.
In total, more than 270,000 people have been killed since conflict first erupted in Syria in 2011.
Agencies contributed to this report.