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Syrian government offers to meet with opposition

Against a backdrop of steady military gains for the opposition forces, Bashar Assad's government proposed a meeting. Critics call it a tactic to keep western arms out of opposition hands.

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Syrians pass a house destroyed by a government airstrike in Jabal al-Zaweya village of Sarjeh, in Idlib, Syria, Feb. 25. Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, Syria's foreign minister said Monday.

Hussein Malla / AP

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Syria said Monday it is prepared to hold talks with armed rebels bent on overthrowing President Bashar Assad, the clearest signal yet that the regime is growing increasingly nervous about its long-term prospects to hold onto power as opposition fighters make slow but persistent headway in the civil war.

Meanwhile, the umbrella group for Syrian opposition parties said it had reversed a decision to boycott a conference in Rome being held to help drum up financial and political support for the opposition. Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said the move came after a phone call between the group's leader, Mouaz al-Khatib, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Al-Bunni told pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Arabiya the decision was made based on guarantees al-Khatib heard from Western diplomats that the conference would be different this time. He did not elaborate. The boycott had put the group at odds with its international backers.

The Syrian talks offer, made by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a visit to Moscow, came hours before residents of Damascus and state-run TV reported a huge explosion and a series of smaller blasts in the capital, followed by heavy gunfire.

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