In an unexpected move, a Syrian cabinet minister said the Syrian government would use a long-delayed peace conference to call for a ceasefire.

Military standstill

Deputy prime minister for economic affairs Qadri Jamil told the Guardian newspaper the conflict had reached an impasse.

"Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side. This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.”

Jamil said the Syrian government had several aims, including "an end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way."

"Let nobody have any fear that the regime in its present form will continue… For all practical purposes the regime in its previous form has ended.”

However, the Syrian government today insisted Jamil had been misquoted.

Violent clashes

Firas Abi Ali is head of the Middle East & North Africa team at IHS Jane’s, a defense and security analysis company.

“I don’t think that he has the authority required to speak on behalf of the Syrian government, despite his title. Him and a couple of other people were brought into the government recently to try to show that the government is being more inclusive. He himself represents a small Communist party and probably has limited ties to the decision-makers that are actually in charge of the war effort.”

Russia and the US have been trying to organize a peace conference for months. In his interview, Jamil said the Syrian government was unhappy over the US’s insistence that the Syrian National Coalition should be the only opposition body at the conference. The SNC is based outside Syria. It says it will boycott any peace conference unless Syrian president Bashar al-Assad resigns.

Today, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov met opposition figures inside Syria. He is reported to have proposed a peace conference include three opposition teams – the SNC, the Syria-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and a Kurdish delegation.

Firas Abi Ali says the Syrian government is exploiting the opposition’s lack of unity. “It would suit them very much to present themselves as being reasonable, and they probably know that the opposition does not have anybody on the ground that is capable of imposing or keeping up a ceasefire or even negotiating a ceasefire, in a sense that the opposition is so fragmented that nobody can speak for it with one voice and sit down at the negotiating table with the government and say that a compromise has actually been reached.”

Meanwhile, there has been a spike in clashes between different armed groups opposing the Syrian government.

The Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant this week seized the northern town of Azaz from the larger Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Disagreement is also continuing on the international stage, with Russia and the US at loggerheads over the content of a UN security council resolution covering the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Western countries want to include the threat of force, but Russia opposes this.

Speaking at the Valdai discussion club yesterday, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said: "We always say it's the Assad's government that used the chemical weapons, but what if it was the opposition? In this case, nobody tells what to do with the opposition."

US secretary of state John Kerry had this to say: "We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there's not a shred of evidence however that the opposition does."

Iran offers help

Iran has also entered the diplomatic fray. Writing in the Washington Post, new president Hassan Rouhani declared his country was ready to facilitate dialogue in Syria.

Firas Abi Ali believes that the Iranians “would have considerable leverage over the Syrian government. Their line would be to try to help the government to remove the jihadists and eventually help the government reform itself. I don’t know whether or not it would be acceptable to the US and to other western actors, but I’m pretty certain it would not be acceptable to the Saudis and to the Turks.”

This afternoon, Syria was reported to have submitted details of its chemical weapons to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Netherlands. The organization's key members are due to vote on a plan aimed at fast-tracking the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpiles by mid-2014.