Russia and the Arab League offered Wednesday to broker talks between the Syrian government and the opposition to end the country’s two-year civil war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the Arab League are attempting to establish direct contact between the two sides of the conflict, which the UN says has killed at least 70,000 people. Lavrov spoke as he hosted Arab League officials and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Lebanon and other countries, in Moscow.
Lavrov said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and the opposition need to “sit down at the negotiating table,” which he said was the only possible way of ending the conflict without irreparably damaging Syria.
“Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it’s a road to nowhere, a road to mutual destruction of the people,” Lavrov told reporters.
Both Lavrov and Arab League General Secretary Nabil Elaraby said their main priority was creating a transitional government in Syria to navigate a way out of the conflict.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will lead a delegation to Moscow on Monday, and Russia is expecting a visit in March from the Syrian National Coalition leader, Mouaz al-Khatib.
No conditions for the Syrian negotiations have been set. Lavrov said both sides’ readiness to begin talks was “the most important thing.”
Also on Wednesday, Syria’s state-run news agency said two mortars exploded inside a soccer stadium in central Damascus, killing one player and injuring several.
The SANA agency said the mortars landed in the Tishrin Stadium in the central Baramkeh district during soccer practice.
It says one player from the Homs-based al-Wathbah club was killed. The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported one player was killed.
The mortar attack was the second in as many days in the capital. On Tuesday, two mortars exploded near one of President Bashar Assad’s palaces, causing material damage only.
The attack was the first confirmed strike close to a presidential palace and another sign that the civil war is seeping into areas of the capital once considered safe.