UN Syria Envoy to Meet Assad as Death Toll Rises
A top United Nations official met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today to discuss the 21- month uprising, a day after an opposition group said government warplanes bombed a bakery and killed 94 people.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Special Envoy on Syria, met Assad in Damascus to discuss international efforts toward a cease- fire. During the meeting, Assad told Brahimi that the government backs any effort that is in the interest of the Syrian people, state television reported. The talks were “constructive,” it said.
International efforts to end the uprising against Assad’s rule have failed to prevent the country from sliding into more violence as the government uses heavy weapons to halt the rebellion. Russia and China blocked two UN Security Council resolutions to force an end to violence that killed 44,000 people since March 2011, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Russia has supplied weapons to its Soviet-era ally throughout the uprising.
Brahimi entered Syria via Lebanon yesterday and traveled to Damascus, said Press TV, the state-run Iranian television network, without citing anyone. Assad won’t stand down and won’t be offered asylum in Russia, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the main bloc of Syrian opposition groups, informed Brahimi that Assad can’t stay even without powers. The comments by al-Khatib, who leads the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, were posted on his Facebook page.
Syrian warplanes hit a bakery in the town of Halfaya near Hama yesterday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Abu Al-Qassim al-Hamawi, an activist from Hama, told al-Jazeera television in a telephone interview that hundreds of people had been waiting in line to buy bread. In all, 184 people were killed by government forces across the country yesterday, the committees said.
Negotiations are the only way to halt the increasingly intensive fighting, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Dec. 20. Violence has “increased dramatically” in and around major cities, particularly Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, the commercial hub, the commission said in its latest update. It found numerous incidents of torture, summary executions and attacks on cultural property.
Syrian rebels battled with government forces today in suburbs of Damascus, with casualties on both sides, the U.K.- based Observatory said in an e-mailed statement. Power was cut to many districts in the capital, the group said on its Facebook page.
In a bid to revive mediation efforts, Russia has invited Brahimi to Moscow this month, according to Lavrov. It has also asked al-Khatib to hold talks with Russian representatives to discuss a peaceful solution, he said.
Assad, whose forces have suffered recent setbacks at the hands of the rebels, vowed last month that he won’t flee. He approved the nation’s 2013 budget of 1.38 trillion pounds ($19.5 billion), Syrian state television said yesterday.
Syria is “the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region,” Assad said in an interview with Russian state broadcaster RT last month. “I have to live and die in Syria.”
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