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'Friends Of Syria' Meet To Prepare Peace Conference

A rebel fighter walks on the streets of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 10.
The Friends of Syria grouping has met in Paris to prepare for the international peace conference on Syria in Switzerland in a little over a week.

Representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey were among those attending the January 12 gathering, alongside the president of Syria's opposition National Coalition Ahmed al-Jarba.

The much-delayed peace conference, due to take place in Montreaux on January 22, is expected to pave the way for talks between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition.

The Assad government is supposed to take part.

But the country's opposition is divided over whether to pariticpate in the conference.

Friends of Syria was formed as a pro-opposition diplomatic grouping after Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning Syria in the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says nearly 700 people have been killed in rebel infighting in northern Syria.

The monitoring group said on January 12 that 697 people have been killed since the clashes erupted on January 3 in the northern provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, and Raqa.

According to the group, the toll includes 100 civilians, 351 fighters from the mainstream rebel groups, and 246 from Al-Qaeda-linked groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS).

The ISIS and its allies have alienated other rebel factions by adopting brutal tactics, including kidnapping and killing civilians.

The observatory, which relies on a network of activists across Syria for its reports, also said there were "hundreds of captives from both sides whose fate is unknown."

Based on reporting by dpa, AP, AFP, and BBC