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Assad says he’s ready to ‘negotiate everything’

The Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks in Damascus in this photo released on Monday by the SANA news agency.

The Associated Press BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in remarks published Monday that he was prepared “to negotiate everything” at planned talks later this month in Kazakhstan, seeking to cast himself as a peacemaker after his forces’ recapture of Aleppo last month.

However, the upcoming talks, brokered by Ankara and Moscow, are still in doubt as Syrian opposition groups have yet to confirm their participation.

Syrian activists meanwhile reported what appeared to be a U.S.-led special forces raid on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in eastern Syria.

Omar Abou Leila, who runs Deir Ezzor 24, said four helicopters landed in the desert between the ISIL-held cities of Deir el-Zour and Raqqa on Sunday. Commandos set up checkpoints and intercepted a vehicle carrying several ISIL militants, killing all of them and flying off with the bodies, he said.

“It’s an operation that apparently targeted an important figure,” Abou Leila told The Associated Press from Germany, where he is based. Deir Ezzor 24 is one of several locally staffed underground groups reporting from ISIL-held territory.

Speaking to French reporters at his Damascus palace, Assad defended his troops’ deadly bombardment of eastern Aleppo, saying the alternative would have been to leave the city’s civilians to the mercy of “terrorists” — a term the government uses for all rebels.

Assad questioned the credibility of Syrian opposition groups backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, which make up the bulk of the armed and political opposition to his rule.

“There’s no limit to negotiations,” Assad said, in remarks carried by Syrian state media. “But who is going to be there from the other side, we don’t know yet ... The viability of the conference depends on that.”Speech

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