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Diplomatic Activity Offers Glimmer Of Hope On Resolving Syrian Conflict


In the Middle East, there's been a flurry of diplomatic activity about the war in Syria. It's far too soon to say there's an end in sight, but unusual meetings are taking place. NPR's Alice Fordham reports on those and a local cease-fire near the Syrian capital.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: For a month, rebel forces have been trying to hold on to the little town of Zabadani near Damascus, fighting against the soldiers of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Local TV shows intense conflict. But this morning, a temporary cease-fire was announced with hopes for an evacuation of civilians. One big rebel group called Ahrar al-Sham led the negotiations.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Praying in Arabic).

FORDHAM: This is a video of prayers in support of the battle. But four bloody weeks later, the rebels have come to the negotiating table. According to two people familiar with the discussions, the rebels are meeting directly with officials from Iran in Turkey. Iran is Assad's staunchest ally. The rebels could withdraw from this battle if the Assad's forces pull out of an area they want. The talks come amid an unusual flurry of diplomacy in the region. Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, gave a press conference in Lebanon today and visited Damascus in the afternoon.


JAVAD ZARIF: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Zarif says there's a new opportunity for peace in the region, referring to growing hopes the nuclear deal between Iran and the West will be implemented soon. There have been other regional meetings lately - countries backing the Syrian regime, like Russia, meeting with rebel supporters like Saudi Arabia. And Iran plans to announce a detailed version of a plan for peace. But analyst Randa Slim isn't sure the proposal is really substantive.

RANDA SLIM: I think, for them, this initiative is trying to portray to the region an Iran that's interested and working seriously on a solution in Syria.

FORDHAM: But Slim thinks it's mainly about Iran's image. There have been local cease-fires in the past and even peace talks which crumbled. So even if the cease-fire holds in that little town of Zabadani, the war will grind on in the rest of Syria. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.