Scores of civilians, rebels and proregime fighters were killed in the streets of Syria as suicide bombers wreaked havoc across the country over the weekend. Reports of savage fighting came as the Arab League on Sunday proposed peace talks between President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition forces on Nov. 23 and 24 in Geneva.
“Arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby in Cairo, according to Reuters.
However, doubts remain over whether highly fractured opposition forces on the ground in Syria would be able to field representatives. The U.N. and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the possibility for negotiations would remain up in the air unless representatives of “an important part of Syria’s opposition population” could be determined, Reuters reported.
In an official statement published late last month, 11 of Syria’s largest Islamist militias announced the creation of a new strategic alliance and denounced the leadership of the Washington-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC). To add to the embattled exiled opposition’s worries, rebel fighters inside Syria are reportedly gravitating toward the better-funded Islamist brigades, as the SNC struggles to get financial support from its Western backers.
According to an Associated Press report, the SNC will meet in Turkey in early November to decide if it will attend the Geneva talks.
As the diplomatic wrangling continues, carnage within Syria goes on unabated. In Hama on Sunday, at least 37 people were killed when a suicide bomber reportedly tied to the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, detonated a truck filled with explosives near a government checkpoint.
According to initial reports, civilians bore the brunt of the explosion. The toll is likely to rise as dozens more succumb to critical injuries, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Hama remains largely under government control and is of strategic importance as it lies between Damascus and the proregime Alawite strongholds along the Mediterranean coast.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in close proximity to a government checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus. According to al-Jazeera, over 30 people were killed.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to President Assad’s regime are preparing for a massive offensive to dislodge rebel forces from the Qalamoun region, which lies between Damascus and Homs. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, myriad rebel groups are digging in to repel the government assault and defend territory that both sides see as tactically vital.