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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is"a one-man super-magnet for terrorism," according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry, speaking to al-Arabiya television, seemed to be elaborating on a statement he made yesterday, declaring that the current ruler of the war-torn country must step aside and make way for a transitional government. "More and more terrorists keep coming" to Syria, Kerry added, "because Assad keeps killing."

Here's the longer version of Kerry's remarks, via the AP

Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism. Before Assad started killing his own people, these terrorists were not in Syria," Kerry said. "The fact is that more and more terrorists keep coming because Assad keeps killing and Assad keeps directing his people to engage against innocent civilians."

A Syrian peace conference kicked off yesterday in Switzerland, ahead of the beginning of direct talks between the Syrian regime and a coalition of opposition groups on Friday. Assuming both groups are able to enter the same room on Friday, it will be the first time the two sides have talked face-to-face since the conflict began in 2011, the BBC explains

That's still an if, assuming the tone of Wednesday's meeting is any indication. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem criticized what he sees as Western interference in Syria's affairs, on behalf of the rebel forces in the country. He asked those countries to stop funding rebel groups and let Syria deal with its own problems, the Washington Post reported. Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba said that the rebel coalitions against the Assad regime will not accept any transitional process involving the current government. He asked for the international community to step up its actions to end the years-long conflict in his country. 

As CNN notes, the dispute between the Syrian camp and the U.S. State Department — which played out in a series of statements from both groups yesterday — has done little to encourage optimism for this first round of peace talks. 

The U.N. stopped updating its death toll for the Syrian conflict in January. But the number of dead from the civil war there is well over 100,000. On Tuesday, an international team of experts released what appear to be tens of thousands of images from a Syrian defector depicting mass torture in the country. The Syrian regime has denied the veracity of those images. 

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