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Syrian priest labels conflict 'third world war' as peace talks begin

A Syrian priest and one of the country's leading oncologists claims a 'third world war' is taking place in the country, with 84 nationalities, including European and UK fighters now involved in the three-year conflict.

Speaking exclusively to Premier's News Hour from inside the country, Dr Jany Haddad from a Baptist Church in Aleppo, accused rebel groups of turning on each other as fledgling peace talks between the Assad regime and opposition groups continue for the first time in Geneva. They've begun with government officials and the opposition blaming each other for the conflict, which has cost thousands of lives.

Dr Haddad says 'Islamic terrorists' have turned on the opposition Free Syrian Army fighters, resulting, he claims, in the deaths of more than 3,000 people over the past three nights alone.

The oncologist has also accused western governments, including the UK, US and France of being responsible for escalating the conflict following a decision to send arms to opposition forces last summer, which Dr Haddad says has resulted in the further destruction of one of the world's oldest and most historic cities and its infrastructure.

According to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, some 1,000 factories in Aleppo have been plundered, and stolen goods transferred to Turkey with the full knowledge and facilitation of the Turkish government. Recent international media reports suggest Islamist fighters dominating rebel areas in Aleppo, focusing on enforcing sharia law and fighting one another rather than the government. Widespread destruction, and evidence of malnutrition and disease has also been documented.

However, Dr Jany Haddad told Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour that many Christians have refused to get involved in the conflict, despite continued attacks against them:

Meanwhile, speaking before Wednesday's conference the UN's Secretary General, who's chairing today's peace conference in Geneva, has said it would be "unforgivable not to seize this opportunity" to end a conflict that has left more than 100,000 people dead and driven 9.5 million from their homes. But there has already been a fiery start to Syrian peace talks in Switzerland. The country's foreign minister had a row with Ban Ki-Moon, who'd asked him to cut short a lengthy opening speech.

Speaking to Premier from Lebanon, Tearfund's Syria Disaster Response Manager Justine Nola told Premier that refugees are aware the talks are taking place:

On Tuesday, three former international war crimes prosecutors accused Syria's government of carrying out large scale killings and torture.

Their report claimed some of the victims had no eyes, while other showed signs of strangulation, starvation and electrocution. Meanwhile, in its annual report also released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch accuses Russia and China of allowing abuses to take place by blocking action through the UN. It also accuses both government and pro-opposition forces of human rights abuses including torture and extrajudicial killings.

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