Syrian Rebels Reject Russian Proposal as Kerry and Lavrov Meet for Talks

Opposition groups in Syria slam diplomatic efforts to stall U.S. strikes against Assad, while Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Geneva to hold talks with Russian counterpart

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Hamid Khatib / Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he stands inside a burned shop in Aleppo's Karm al-Jabal district, July 23, 2013.

A Russian-backed proposal that would see Syrian President Bashar Assad surrender his chemical weapons stockpile to international custody has been panned by Salim Idriss, the head of the Syrian opposition’s Supreme Military Council.

“We announce our definitive rejection of the Russian initiative to place chemical weapons under international custody,” said Idriss, in a video posted online.

Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision on Tuesday to shelve a military strike against Assad’s forces, fresh clashes broke out across Syria, including a renewed push by government troops to retake the Christian town of Maaloula, northwest of Damascus.

(MORE: Putin Calls for Diplomacy on Syria in Times Op-Ed)

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Geneva on Thursday where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The pair will then begin the tough task of pulling together a plan that will allow Assad’s government to turnover their chemical weapons.

Later on Thursday, a French envoy is set to present a draft resolution, already been approved by the U.S. and U.K., to the Russian and Chinese delegations at the U.N. Security Council, calling for the immediate surrender of Assad’s chemical stockpiles. However, Russian officials have expressed doubts over the draft, which reportedly pins the Aug. 21 nerve gas attack in Damascus on forces loyal to Assad, and leaves a potential military option on the table if the regime does not comply — a caveat that Moscow has dismissed.

U.N. inspectors will also deliver the results of their independent investigation of the area where the chemical weapons strike occurred. In an exclusive report published in Foreign Policy on Wednesday, an unnamed “senior Western official” was quoted as saying that the the U.N. inspectors have a “wealth of evidence” that implicates the Assad government.

During a Press TV interview broadcast on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif continued to challenge the growing international line that Assad’s government gassed its own citizens. “There was and still is no proof that the use of chemical weapons was perpetrated by the government [of Syria],” said Zarif.

MORE: Syria’s Assad May Be Losing Control Over His Deadly Militias