Sun, Sep 16, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Strife continues as peace envoy meets Syrian leader

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT:Dozens more have been killed across the country, with the peace negotiator pledging to try and persuade China to drop its support for the regime

AFP, DAMASCUS

A Syrian man carrying grocery bags runs to dodge sniper fire near a checkpoint manned by the Free Syria Army in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday.

Photo: AFP

International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus yesterday, hoping to breathe life into stalled peace efforts, 18 months into Syria’s deadly conflict.

State television said Brahimi, on his first visit since being appointed earlier this month, went into the meeting with the Syrian leader, but it gave no immediate details.

Brahimi, a veteran troubleshooter, has also held talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and members of the officially tolerated opposition since he arrived in the Syrian capital on Thursday.

The envoy 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.

“We told Mr Brahimi ... of our support for his efforts to resolve the crisis by ending the violence and killings, providing medical care and releasing political prisoners,” Hassan Abdel Azim, the bloc spokesman, told reporters.

Brahimi is to “listen to the opposition and officials and crystalize new ideas and a plan that could succeed,” he said after the talks in a Damascus hotel, adding the peace initiative of his predecessor Kofi Annan would be amended.

“There will be new ideas and measures,” Abdel Azim said.

He said a delegation of his group was set to leave yesterday for China, a key Damascus ally, to urge Beijing to “put pressure on the regime to stop the violence, free detainees and allow peaceful protests.”

UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci said that the international peace envoy was also set to hold talks yesterday with Arab ambassadors and a EU delegation.

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.

The envoy has warned that the conflict is deteriorating.

“We came to Syria to hold meetings with our Syrian brothers because there is a big crisis and I think it is getting worse,” he said, quoted by Syria’s official SANA news agency.

Fighting raged in several areas on Friday, including the capital.

Regime forces used fighter jets and helicopter gunships to pound the northern city of Aleppo and the province of the same name, where fierce clashes also raged around a military airport, monitors said.

Warplanes bombarded the rebel-held towns of Al-Bab and Marea near Aleppo city, said the Syrian Observatory, adding that army forces and rebels fought around Minnigh military airport.

Despite shelling by regime forces, as seen in videos posted online, residents of Marea, Aleppo city and towns across the northern province came out for anti-regime demonstrations after the weekly Muslim prayers, activists said.

Protests were also reported in the provinces of Damascus, Idlib, Daraa in the south and Hama in central Syria, the Observatory said, and the army stormed the Sayyida Zeinab district of southeast Damascus, making several arrests.

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