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Assad tells French MPs he is ‘optimistic’ about peace talks

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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 27, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (c-L) meeting with a French delegation headed by French politician Thierry Mariani (C-R) in the capital Damascus. STRINGER / SANA / AFP

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad told visiting French lawmakers on Sunday that he was "optimistic" about new peace talks planned for later this month, a member of the delegation told French news agency AFP.


Lawmaker Thierry Mariani said the Syrian president also declared himself willing to negotiate with nearly 100 rebel groups fighting against his government, excluding jihadist organisations.

French lawmakers

Assad received the three French lawmakers in the capital Damascus on Sunday, a day after the delegation visited second city Aleppo, recently recaptured by the government.

Assad told the delegation he was "counting a lot" on the new peace talks expected to be convened later this month in the Kazakh capital Astana.

They are being organised by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, who jointly brokered a fragile nationwide ceasefire currently in effect in Syria.

Regime ally Iran is also helping to organise the talks, which Turkey suggested could be convened around the last week of January.

Mariani said Assad told the delegation he was "ready to talk" with some 91 rebel groups, not including the Islamic State group or former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front.

Assad 'optimistic'

Assad said he was "optimistic" and "ready for reconciliation with them on the condition that they lay down their arms," Mariani said.

Mariani added that Assad criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of jailing "more political prisoners than all the Arab countries put together."

And he said the Syrian leader dismissed accusations of war crimes by his forces by saying that no wars were clean.

"There were probably mistakes on the part of the government" that Assad said he would "condemn" and "regret," Mariani said.

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

The violence has displaced more than half the country's population and caused massive destruction.