Middle East

Syria strike leaves dialogue bid open

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Media captionSyrian state TV broadcast this footage, saying it showed the aftermath of the air strike

It took Damascus three days to produce pictorial evidence that the Jamraya military research centre, which it says was the target of the Israeli air strike, had indeed been hit.

Though they cannot be independently corroborated, the images suggest that the centre may have been damaged in an attack on vehicles in the compound - perhaps, as the Americans insist, bearing missiles bound for Hezbollah.

Whatever the case, the air strike has strengthened President Bashar al-Assad's regional credentials as the standard-bearer of Arab defiance to Israel.

Even the Arab League and the Syrian opposition coalition have had to condemn the attack, though both want to see Mr Assad out.

But his remarks to the visiting Iranian national security chief, Said Jalili, that Syria was capable of confronting any attack, did not make it any more likely that the incident will spark a regional conflagration.

In fact, the emphasis seems to be on efforts to find a political way out of Syria's internal crisis.

Mr Jalili praised President Assad's recent proposal for a "national dialogue" on a political solution, and said Iran would do what it could to help.

Lines of communications

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi has held talks with the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who also for the first time met Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of Syria's other key ally Russia.

That does not mean a settlement is likely, but at least some new lines of communication have been opened up.

And the opposition has been confronted with the unthinkable by its own leader, who seems bent on averting further suffering in a conflict which appears to be bedding down into a protracted, gory stalemate.

But Mr Khatib, who stunned many of his coalition colleagues on Wednesday with his offer to talk with government officials provided 160,000 prisoners are freed, will have his work cut out to convince angry sceptics within the opposition that this is not a fatally compromising sign of weakness.

One of the central tenets of the opposition structures is that there can be no negotiation while Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle remain in power.

If that is breached, the problem will be not just with political dissent from within the coalition, but also with fighters on the ground, where jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front have increasingly been making the running.

There are also many issues on the government side.

President Assad has set in motion a string of concrete measures and mechanisms to prepare the "national dialogue" aimed at producing a political solution, such as guarantees that returning opposition figures can come and go freely.

But whether that amounts to a vehicle for a genuine transition to regime change - which the opposition and most of the international community want to see - is, to say the least, open to doubt.

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