Brahimi meets Syria's Assad, warns of world threat
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoInternational peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned after meeting President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday that the worsening conflict in Syria poses a threat to the region and the world at large.
"The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world," said the newly-appointed Brahimi, who took over as envoy earlier this month from former UN chief Kofi Annan.
Assad, quoted by state television, said that dialogue between Syrians held the key to a solution and called for foreign countries to stop supplying arms to his foes.
"The real problem in Syria is that of combining politics with the work being done on the ground," he said. "The political work continues, in particular by calling for dialogue between Syrians based on the aspirations of all Syrians.
"The success of political action is dependent on putting pressure on the countries that finance and train the terrorists, and which bring weapons into Syria, until they stop doing so," he said.
Eighteen months into Syria's deadly conflict and without an end in sight, Assad said his government would "cooperate with all sincere efforts to solve the crisis, so long as the efforts are neutral and independent." Brahimi, a 78-year-old veteran Algerian troubleshooter, has also met with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and members of the officially tolerated opposition since he arrived in the Syrian capital on Thursday.
The envoy called for a united effort. "There is need for all parties to unite their efforts to find a solution for the crisis, given Syria's strategic importance... and the crisis's influence over the whole region," he said.
"The solution can only come from the Syrian people," stressed Brahimi, who was to hold talks later on Saturday with Arab ambassadors and a European Union delegation.
Brahimi already warned on arrival that the conflict is "getting worse," as underlined by the daily bloodshed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, said 132 people were killed in violence on Friday, including 100 civilians, 18 of whom died in the capital.
Brahimi held talks on Friday with Syrian opposition figures who said he was bringing "new ideas" to the peace effort, as blasts rocked Damascus and regime air strikes targeted rebel areas in the northern city of Aleppo.
He met with opposition groups tolerated by Assad's regime such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which groups Arab nationalists, Kurds and socialists.
The group said it was sending a delegation on Saturday to China, a key Damascus ally, to urge Beijing to "put pressure on the regime to stop the violence, free detainees and allow peaceful protests." Brahimi is on his first Damascus visit since his appointment to replace Annan who quit the post after a hard-sought peace deal he brokered became a dead letter.
Air strikes kill '12 civilians'
On the ground, overnight air strikes killed at least 12 civilians and wounded around 60 in Al-Bab in northern Syria, doctors in the rebel-held town told AFP on Saturday.
Two fighter jets carried out a series of raids on the town between 4 pm (1300 GMT) Friday and 4 am (0100 GMT) Saturday, hitting homes and empty school buildings, a doctor at the town's hospital said, asking not to be identified.
In one of the homes hit, four people lost their lives, three of them women, the father of one of those killed told AFP, while residents said there were no rebel fighters in any of the buildings hit.
Clashes on Saturday broke out in Syria's main cities of Damascus and Aleppo.
In the northern city of Aleppo the army battled with rebels at the entrances to the rebel-held Bustan al-Basha district and helicopter gunships attacked the opposition bastions of Hanano and Sakhur, the Syrian Observatory said.
After a week of fighting over the central district of Midan, the army had taken most of the area and set up checkpoints for the first time, an AFP correspondent in the city said.
Regime forces also carried out air strikes against a rebel-held police post in Hanano for the second day in a row, after similar attacks on two police stations in Midan on Friday.
Near the capital, five rebels were killed by shelling and sniper fire in the southern suburb of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad where regime forces deployed in force, the Observatory said.
Clashes meanwhile broke out at the entrance of the Damascus suburb, the watchdog said, while a civilian was killed elsewhere in the province.
In the southern province of Daraa, fierce clashes broke out between rebel fighters and government troops as the army tried to retake the Lajat area -- considered the most important rebel stronghold in the province.
The Observatory estimates that more than 27,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March last year. The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000.