At least 19 people were killed in Syria when
government troops shelled areas in the country's north, activists
said Tuesday, hours after the government expressed readiness to hold
talks with the rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops shelled the area of Jabal Badero, in the northern province of Aleppo at dawn with high-power long-range ballistic missiles. Six children were among those killed.
Activists in Aleppo said the neighbourhood was hit by five Scud missiles.
The new attack came after National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said his country was prepared to talk with armed opposition groups. It is the first time the government offers to hold direct negotiations with rebels, whom it has long dismissed as "terrorists."
"We affirm our commitment to holding dialogue with the opposition within Syria and abroad, along with all those who bore arms and then abandoned them, all without relinquishing national standards," he said, addressing parliament late Monday, according to state news agency SANA.
Earlier this month, the main opposition group said it was ready for dialogue with representative of the Syrian regime, focusing on the departure of Bashar al-Assad from power.
But the government said it will not accept any conditions for the talks.
Meanwhile, Moscow sent two planes to Syria carrying 46 tonnes of humanitarian aid, which might also evacuate Russian nationals who want to leave the war-torn country, Interfax quoted the civil defense ministry as saying.
The first plane - an Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft carrying food stuffs, tents and energy generators - landed in the coastal city of Latakia. The other is expected to arrive later Tuesday.
According to Lebanese media, over a hundred Russian nationals are expected to leave on board the planes.
In January, Moscow evacuated 77 citizens through Lebanon after the situation around Damascus deteriorated.
In Geneva, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday said the number of Syrians who have fled their country has exceeded 850,000.
"As of the 17th of February, we have over 850,000 Syrian refugees who are awaiting registration or have been registered," agency spokesman Babar Baluch said.
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