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UN envoy: Assad ‘part of solution’ in Syria

Any peaceful solution to the fighting in Syria must involve President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said in Vienna on Friday.

UN envoy: Assad 'part of solution' in Syria
President Bashar al-Assad with soldiers in Syria. Photo: APA/epa/SANA

"President Assad is part of the solution," de Mistura told a joint press conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

"I will continue to have very important discussions with him," he added, noting that "the only solution is a political solution."

De Mistura, who was in Damascus this week where he met with Assad, is due to deliver a report on his mission to the UN Security Council on February 17.

If no solution to the conflict is found, "the only one who takes advantage of it is (the Islamic State group) Isis Daesh," de Mistura said, referring to the jihadists who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.

The group is a "monster waiting for this conflict to take place in order to be able to take advantage," he said.

Kurz meanwhile agreed that "in the fight against Isis it can be necessary to fight on the same side" but insisted that "Assad will never be a friend or even a partner."

Human rights groups have accused Syria's government of indiscriminate bombardment of civilians in rebel-held areas, including with crude "barrel bombs" — allegations Assad denied in a BBC interview this week.

In the interview, he also complained that in the fight against IS, "there is no dialogue" with the US-led coalition, which began airstrikes in September.

"There's, let's say, information, but not dialogue," the embattled leader said.

In a poll on Thursday, 53 percent of residents in opposition-held areas of Syria's second city of Aleppo — which has seen some of the country's worst violence since July 2012 — said they favoured de Mistura's October proposal of a "freeze" in fighting.

But a great majority also said they were sceptical that a truce would hold.

Syria's war, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011, has since killed more than 210,000 people, with regime troops shelling rebel-held areas almost daily. Several rounds of negotiations have ended in failure.

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SYRIA

Syrian gets life sentence in Austria for murder of 20 soldiers

A Syrian migrant has been jailed for life in Austria for executing 20 wounded government soldiers in his home country.

Syrian gets life sentence in Austria for murder of 20 soldiers
The trial was held in Innsbruck. Photo: hiro1775/Depositphotos

The court in the western city of Innsbruck announced its ruling late on Wednesday after a jury found the 27-year-old guilty of 20 charges of “murder as a terror offence”.

The man, who denied the charges, was detained in a refugee shelter in Tyrol state last June after being denounced by a fellow Syrian.

According to Austrian media, the accused had boasted to other asylum seekers of belonging to a rebel unit and shooting unarmed or injured troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar-al Assad.

After his arrest, the man initially admitted to the 2013-2014 killings in the western region of Homs but later retracted his confession, saying his testimony had been badly translated.

The translator rejected this in court: “The defendant told me he had shot badly wounded soldiers. I asked him to repeat his claim and he did.”

The man, who was not named, was tried for war crimes under Austrian law.

Austria could not extradite him to face charges in Syria because of the bloody six-year civil war pitting Assad's troops against rebel groups.