Syria's Assad meets with 4 French lawmakers in Damascus
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has held talks with four French lawmakers visiting Damascus - the first such meeting since Paris broke diplomatic ties in 2012.
The motive behind the Damascus trip by the four - two senators and two lawmakers from the National Assembly - was not immediately clear. France has been a staunch supporter of the mainstream opposition forces trying to oust Assad in Syria's civil war.
French government spokesman Stephan Le Foll insisted the trip was a "personal initiative" and in no way an official diplomatic visit. He would not respond directly to a question about whether the trip was useful or regrettable.
The four lawmakers were identified as Gerard Bapt, Jean-Pierre Vial, Jacques Myard and Francois Zochetto. Bapt and Vial are presidents of the France-Syria Friendship Group in the French parliament.
The Syrian state news agency said Assad and the Frenchmen discussed the "developments and challenges facing the Arab and European areas, especially those pertaining to terrorism."
Also Wednesday, Syrian judicial officials agreed to release leading opposition figure Louay Hussein on bail, his political movement said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. The Building the Syrian State party said Hussein was to be freed on Thursday, although he still faces charges of "weakening national sentiment and weakening the morale of the nation."
Syrian authorities detained Hussein, a prominent Damascus-based writer and dissident who spent years in jail in the 1980s, at the Syria-Lebanon border in November as he was leaving to visit family in Spain. It was the second time he was detained since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
Human rights groups say the government has rounded up tens of thousands of Syrians, many of whom disappear in custody never to be seen again. A U.N. panel last year accused Damascus of committing a crime against humanity by making people systematically vanish.