BEIRUT- Syria is prepared to talk to armed opposition groups, the minister for national reconciliation said on Monday, the first time the government has offered to hold direct negotiations with rebel forces it long dismissed as terrorists.

President Bashar al-Assad said in January that there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or "puppets made by the West".

The political chasm between the government and rebels and a lack of opposition influence over rebel fighters has allowed fighting to rage on for 23 months in Syria. The United Nations says almost 70,000 people have been killed.

An international diplomatic deadlock has prevented effective intervention.

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