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Russia Expects Syrian Government To Attend Peace Talks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Russia says the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has indicated it will send delegates to peace talks on the Syrian conflict in Geneva next week.

Damascus has yet to publicly confirm it will be taking part in the talks.

Asked whether Russia, a close ally of Assad, was encouraging Damascus to attend, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, "They're not refusing."

"They said straight away that they are taking part, they're ready, they will be the first to arrive, wherever is needed," she said.

The Syrian foreign minister is expected to formally announce his government's position on the Geneva talks at a news conference in Damascus on March 12.

Meanwhile, Syria's main opposition bloc said it would take part.

The High National Committee said in a statement on March 11 that it would attend as part of its "commitment to international efforts to stop the spilling of Syrian blood and find a political solution."

The UN-brokered talks coincide with the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 and displaced millions.

They will take place in Geneva just over two weeks after a cease-fire agreement took effect that has reduced violence but not halted the fighting.

Based on reporting by Reuters