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Syrian opposition to attend peace conference

Palestinian children attend rally solidarity with Palestinian refugees Yarmouk refugee camp suburbs Syrian capital Damascus GazCity Thursday Jan. 16 2014.

Palestinian children attend a rally in solidarity with Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus, in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. The Yarmouk camp once housed some 160,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war in Israel known by Palestinians as "Naqba," or the Catastrophe, and by Israelis as the War of Independence. The dire conditions at the Yarmouk camp are a striking example of the catastrophe unfolding in rebel-held areas blockaded by the Syrian government. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

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ISTANBUL (AP) — The main, western-backed Syrian opposition group has voted in favor of attending next week’s peace conference aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war.

The Syrian National Coalition’s media office said that of 73 voters on Saturday, 58 voted in favor of attending the conference.

The Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux.

Many Coalition members were hesitant to attend a conference that has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground, who reject the talks.

The Syrian government has already said it will attend the talks.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s capital Saturday for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by the government ahead of a coming peace conference, a Palestinian official said.

The flow of food into the Yarmouk refugee camp came as the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group held a meeting Saturday in Istanbul to decide whether to attend the peace conference next week aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war.

The Syrian National Coalition is under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux.

Many Coalition members are hesitant to attend a conference that has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground, who reject the talks.

The Coalition could make the announcement regarding the peace conference later Saturday. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the talks.

In Damascus, Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said the first batch of supplies entered the Yarmouk camp on Saturday.

Yarmouk is one of the areas hardest hit by food shortages in Syria. Residents there say 46 people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid.

Raja said hundreds of boxes of food stuff entered the camp. He said much of the material was carried by members of PFLP-GC members and committees in the camp.

“The process is moving slowly since they are being carried on the shoulder to avoid sniper fire,” Raja told The Associated Press in Damascus by telephone.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said an elderly man died in the camp earlier Saturday because of the food shortage.

PFLP-GC members are fighting against Syrian opposition fighters who control most of the camp.

Raja said the aim is to send 7,000 boxes for 7,000 families into the camp’s rebel-held areas. He added that more food supplies will be sent into the camp in the coming days and later medical supplies will be sent as well.

He said committees in the camp will hand over the food boxes to families by name “so that (opposition) gunmen don’t take them.”



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