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William Hague welcomes Syria peace talks progress

William Hague has voiced his support for the Syrian National Coalition's decision to attend peace talks next week aimed at ending the country's bloody civil war.

The foreign secretary said the western-backed group hold a "vision of a democratic and pluralist Syria."

The National Coalition reached this difficult decision against the backdrop of continued brutal regime attacks on Syrian civilians, and the deliberate blocking of humanitarian aid.

The UN Secretary General has made clear that the aim of the talks is to agree a political transition and an end to the conflict. In contrast to the National Coalition, the Syrian regime has still not agreed to this aim.

As I have said many times, any mutually agreed settlement means that Assad can play no role in Syria's future.

– Foreign Secretary William Hague

Read: Syrian political opposition agrees to peace talks in Geneva

Syrian political opposition agrees to peace talks

The main Syrian political opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, said it had agreed y to attend internationally sponsored peace talks beginning in Switzerland next week.

The "Geneva 2" talks with representatives from President Bashar al-Assad's government start in Montreux on Wednesday and are seen as the most serious international effort yet to end the near three-year conflict.

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Assad's wife visits schoolchildren in rare public outing

President Assad's British-born wife has made a rare public appearance, visiting primary school children in Damascus, according to official images released by Syria's national news agency.

Asma Assad was seen being mobbed by children at the so-called Martyr's Daughters' School in her first public appearance since September. Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout
News agency SANA said the Syrian first lady "wished the students success for the prosperity of the fatherland". Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout
Mrs Assad, who was born and raised in London, is said to have visited the school in the Syrian capital on Thursday. Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout

It comes just two days after a fatal air strike on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus that left two children orphaned.

Read their account of their terrifying ordeal and returning to the rubble

Mrs Assad's rare appearance came days after a fatal air strike in Douma by her husband's forces that left eight-year-old Islam an orphan. Credit: ITV News

Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents.

According to Reuters, it was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.

Syrian President Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says Credit: Reuters

Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22 under UN auspices in Geneva. According to the Syrian presidency Twitter account, Assad called for peace through dialogue.

The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement said.

Assad sees 'no obstacles' to re-election bid in 2014

Al Mayadeen is due to air the full interview with Bashar al-Assad later today. Credit: Reuters/SANA

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has suggested he will seek re-election next year despite the country's ongoing bloody civil war.

"Personally, I don't see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential elections," TV station Al Mayadeen quoted him as saying in an interview.

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UK must wait to see details of Syria chemical stockpiles

The UK must wait to receive details of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles that have been received by an international watchdog.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed it had received the "expected disclosure" from the Syrians and was "currently reviewing the information".

The Foreign Office, though, said the "unique case" of Syria has forced a delay:

It has made this disclosure as a non-state party. The coming OPCW executive council needs to endorse a new process to handle Syria's chemical weapons.

Once this has been achieved, the OPCW will be in a position to make the Syrian disclosure available to states' parties.

In consultation with partners we will reach a judgment on its credibility. This is only the start of a long and complex process.

– Foreign Office spokesman

Syria makes 'expected disclosure' to weapons watchdog

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says it has received the "expected disclosure" from the Syrian government.

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We can confirm that we have received the expected disclosure from the Syrian government regarding its chemical weapons programme. 1/2

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The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received. 2/2

Syria had util the end of today to submit full details of its chemical weapons programme to the international watchdog to comply with an agreement with Russia and the US.

Syria faces deadline to give chemical weapons details

Syria has until the end of today to submit full details of its chemical weapons programme to an international watchdog as part of a deal brokered with Russia and the US.

The OPCW website confirms it has received some details from the Syrian regime
The OPCW website confirms it has received some details from the Syrian regime Credit: OPCW

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed it has received an "initial disclosure" from Syria

Syria is believed to have around 1,000 metric tonnes of chemical toxins and has agreed to destroy them by the middle of next year under the Russian-US proposal.

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