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Syrian rebels won’t commit to peace conference

Seek to consult allies first; terms of talks unclear

Turkish riot police surrounded two shops destroyed Saturday by explosions that killed 46 in Reyhanli near Syria. Turkey blames the Assad regime for the bombing.

Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press

Turkish riot police surrounded two shops destroyed Saturday by explosions that killed 46 in Reyhanli near Syria. Turkey blames the Assad regime for the bombing.

BEIRUT — Syria’s main opposition bloc said Monday it wants to consult its allies before confirming that it will join a US-Russian meeting on a peaceful transition in the country.

The United States and Russia called last week for an international conference to start talks that would be accompanied by a cease-fire. The two nations are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, and this marks their first serious joint attempt at Syria diplomacy in a year.

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The time, location, and agenda of the conference have not been set, reflecting disagreements between the two warring sides in Syria that scuttled previous initiatives.

Both sides have agreed in principle to attend, but the opposition Syrian National Coalition says it will not negotiate terms for ending the war unless President Bashar Assad steps down first. The regime has been vague about whether it would accept a truce.

George Sabra, head of the SNC, said Monday his coalition wants to consult with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar before making a decision.

‘‘It is still early to make a decision on attending the conference,’’ Sabra told reporters in Istanbul. ‘‘It still has no agenda, program, and list of attendees.’’

Even so, it appears unlikely the largely exile-based SNC would refuse to take part, especially if its regional allies back the conference. US diplomats have met with Arab leaders to ensure the opposition will get on board.

A smaller opposition coalition of 16 groups with roots in Syria will take part in peace talks, its leader, Hassan Abdul-Azim, told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV on Monday. Speaking from Damascus, he said coalition members were invited by the Russian ambassador to Syria.

The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria has been tolerated by the regime, though several of its senior figures are in jail. The group has long called for talks on a peaceful transition.

Work on logistics for the conference is underway. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said over the weekend that Syria has given its list of attendees to its ally Russia. There was no immediate Syrian government comment.

Elaraby said the international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is working on setting up the conference, but no date has been set. Initially, the United States and Russia said it should be held by the end of the month.

The uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war. More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed and millions displaced.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow on Tuesday that are expected to focus on Syria, amid growing concerns that Russia may soon provide the Assad regime with an advanced antiaircraft weapon.

Israeli officials say Russia is on the verge of selling S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Syria and they have asked Russia to stop supplying such ‘‘game-changing’’ weapons. Russia has rejected Western demands to halt such sales, arguing that they have not violated international law.

Western leaders face growing pressure to find a way to end the conflict — both because of the steadily rising death toll and fears that neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, or Israel could get pulled deeper into it.

Turkey has blamed the Assad regime for twin car bombs Saturday that killed 46 people and wounded scores in a Turkish border town that serves as a hub for Syrian refugees and rebels.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Syria was behind the attacks ‘‘with certainty.’’ He said Turkey is not ruling out retaliation but will act with caution and avoid being drawn into the civil war.

Syria has vehemently denied Turkey’s accusations. There has been no claim of responsibility for the blasts in the town of Reyhanli.

The West is placing its hopes on the revived US-Russian diplomatic initiative. Similar efforts ran aground in the past but now appear to have stronger Russian backing.

Through the conflict, Russia has sided with Assad, sending him weapons and shielding him against Western attempts to impose international sanctions.

Syria was a focus of discussion between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House Monday, with both taking note of the role that could be played by Putin.

Cameron and Obama have consistently said Assad’s regime is illegitimate and he should step down. Cameron conceded that Putin has a different view.

He added that both sides share some goals. “It is in both our interests that at the end of this, there is a stable, democratic Syria; that there is a stable neighborhood; and that we don’t encourage the growth of violent extremism,’’ Cameron said at a joint news conference.

Obama added: ‘‘Our basic argument is that as a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest as well as an obligation to try to resolve this issue in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we’d all like to see over the long term.’’

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