Beirut and Damascus, AP—Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has said a ceasefire proposal for the embattled northern city of Aleppo, which has been raised by the UN envoy to the country, is “worth studying.”
The official SANA news agency reported Assad’s remarks, saying they came during a meeting on Monday with the envoy, Staffan de Mistura.
De Mistura, who is on a three-day visit to Syria, has appealed for what he called “local ceasefires” in Aleppo, the last major city where rebels still hold large parts and neighborhoods as they battle government forces.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Assad’s remarks reflect a change in the government’s stance. A pro-government Syrian newspaper accused the envoy of overstepping his bounds recently by raising before the United Nations the idea of small-scale, localized and negotiated truces in Syria.
After holding talks with President Assad, de Mistura headed to the central city of Homs, said an official in his delegation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media.
The Syrian newspaper Al-Watan said de Mistura will meet in Homs with a delegation representing armed groups from Al-Waar, the last rebel-held part of the city.
Assad’s comments came one day after the killing of four Syrian nuclear scientists close to the Syrian capital of Damascus, in an attack which some activists said had all the hallmarks of a pre-planned assassination.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that relies on activists in Syria, said an Iranian nuclear scientist was also killed in the attack. The pro-government website Damas Now also said a fifth person was killed, but that the person’s identity was unknown. The pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said only that four “nuclear scientists and electrical engineers” were killed.
Al-Watan said the men were on a bus heading to the Scientific Research Center near the Syrian capital when they were attacked on Sunday, and suggested the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front was behind the assault.
Abdurrahman said there was no fighting in the area where the men were killed, near a bridge on a highway just north of Damascus. “There were no clashes there at all. It was an operation to assassinate them,” said Abdurrahman.
Another Syrian activist, who goes by the name Abu Akram Al-Shami, also said there were no clashes in the area, which is a mix of rebel and government-held communities. Shami said the area tended to be quiet because of locally-negotiated truces. Shami and the Damas Now site said Syrian troops sealed off the nearby town of al-Tal following the attack.
Syrian facilities suspected of being used for military and nuclear research have been targeted in the past.
An Israeli airstrike struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus last May. The nature of the research center was unclear. In January, Syrian officials accused Israel of striking another scientific research center northwest of Damascus.
In 2007, Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor—an attack confirmed by US officials. Israel has never commented on the incident.
Syrian, Iranian and Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the killing of the scientists.