Peace envoy - Syria conflict worse

2012-09-13 22:15
Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi was a member of Algerian FLN and a former United Nations official. (Patrick Kovarik, AFP)

Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi was a member of Algerian FLN and a former United Nations official. (Patrick Kovarik, AFP)

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Damascus - Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday the deadly conflict in Syria was getting worse as he arrived on his first official trip aimed at ending nearly 18 months of violence.

"We came to Syria to hold meetings with our Syrian brothers because there is a big crisis, and I think it is getting worse," the official SANA news agency quoted the UN and Arab League envoy as saying on arrival at Damascus airport.

"I think everybody agrees the need to stop the bloodshed and to restore harmony, and we hope that we will succeed" in the mission, said Brahimi, who was appointed two weeks ago to replace former envoy Kofi Annan after the failure of his six-point peace plan for Syria.

Brahimi spoke after rebels were reported to have advanced into a key district of the northern city of Aleppo, where activists said at least 11 people were killed in a strike by a helicopter gunship.

"During his visit to Syria, Mr Brahimi will hold talks with the government and with representatives of the Syrian opposition and civil society," said a statement from his spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi, who had previously announced the veteran diplomat from Algeria would meet President Bashar Assad.

Brahimi was to meet Foreign Minister Walid Muallem later on Thursday, an official Syrian source said.

During his three-day visit he will also meet members of the Syrian opposition tolerated by the regime on Friday, the source said.

Brahimi was accompanied by Mokhtar Lamani, who will remain in Damascus to assume his new functions as head of office for the Joint Special Representative for Syria in the city, Fawzi said.

Faisal Muqdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, said: "We trust that Brahimi has a general understanding of the developments and of the way to solve problems despite the complexities. We are optimistic and we wish Brahimi success."

However, the envoy highlighted to Arab League envoys in Cairo this week that he knows he faces an uphill struggle, with no sign of a lull in the violence.

Mohamed Morsi

He told envoys to the Cairo-based League that "he was approaching the crisis in Syria with his eyes open and the full knowledge that it was an extremely difficult task," a UN spokesperson said.

In Brussels on Thursday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi reiterated that Assad must step down because "a president that kills his own people is not acceptable".

And British Foreign Secretary William Hague, visiting Baghdad, told reporters the Damascus regime is "doomed, that it is not possible for it to survive, and so many crimes [have been] committed that it should not survive."

On the ground, rebels advanced on Thursday into the contested central Midan district of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo, witnesses and military sources said, as combat rocked several city neighbourhoods.

An AFP journalist reported columns of black smoke hanging over the city, scene of some of the country's heaviest violence since fighting erupted there on 20 July.

Warplanes fired at several districts from high altitude in a bid to stay out of range of rebel weapons, he added.

Aleppo has seen nearly two months of fierce clashes between regime forces and rebels of the Free Syrian Army, and Midan is strategic as it opens the way to the main square.

"The FSA has already succeeded in forcing planes to fly at a higher altitude - making their strikes less accurate - and to limit the number of flights from certain key airports," Ahmed al-Khatib, FSA spokesperson in Damascus province, told AFP via Skype.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several rebel-held districts of the northern city were bombarded, with at least 11 people killed when a helicopter gunship targeted a crossroads in Tariq al-Bab.

Former MP shot

It did not say whether the victims were rebels or civilians, but distributed video footage showing several bodies, some bloodied and others badly burned.

In the south of the city, Bustan al-Qasr was bombarded and fighting was reported at Kalasseh, residents said, while a military source reported clashes in the western neighbourhood of Saif al-Dawla.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), which organise anti-regime protests on the ground, said the military used artillery against the Fardoss district of the city.

The Observatory earlier reported bombing in the Karam al-Jabal region of Aleppo province that killed four people overnight, while troops and rebels battled in the capital Damascus.

It also said a former MP, Ahmad al-Turk, was shot dead by security forces who raided his house in Harasta in Damascus province at dawn and arrested his son.

The Observatory said a car bomb exploded in the Rokn Eddin neighbourhood of the capital, without causing casualties, while there was also shelling in Tadamun in its southern suburbs.

LCC activists reported heavy fighting overnight in the Qaboon district of Damascus.

Violence nationwide on Thursday killed at least 53 people, most of them civilians, according to the Observatory which says that more than 27 000 people have been killed in nearly 18 months of violence across the country.

In neighbouring Lebanon, Maronite Christian Patriarch Bishara Rai said Pope Benedict XVI will call on the world to stop arming belligerents in the crisis when he begins a three-day visit to Syria's neighbour on Friday.

And in Syria's northern neighbour Turkey, Hollywood star and UN special envoy Angelina Jolie and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres met some of the 12 000 refugees at Oncupinar camp in the southeastern city of Kilis.

Ankara has called for safe zones to protect people on Syrian soil, but the proposal fell on deaf ears at the UN Security Council last month.

Read more on:    arab league  |  un  |  unhcr  |  lakhdar brahimi  |  syria  |  syria conflict
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