The envoy has been criticized by both the Syrian opposition and the regime.
Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is on the verge of quitting amid growing frustration at deadlocked international efforts to end the worsening conflict, diplomats said Wednesday.
Brahimi is “itching to resign but being persuaded to hang on for a few more days,” said one UN Security Council diplomat.
“He has told everyone that he wants to leave, there is little hope that he will stay,” an Arab diplomat at the United Nations told AFP.
The 79-year-old former Algerian foreign minister was named in place of former UN leader Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League envoy on August 17 last year. He recognized at the time that he faced an uphill battle.
Brahimi has been criticized by the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad’s government said last week it would no longer cooperate with him.
Like Annan, before him Brahimi has been increasingly frustrated at the failure of the major powers to agree to a plan on ways to end the two-year-old conflict which has left more than 70,000 dead.
Russia has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions seeking to increase pressure on Assad, while the United States, Britain and France have stepped up aid to opposition groups in recent months.
But the Arab League decision to recognize the opposition Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate government of Syria was the final straw for the veteran UN troubleshooter, diplomats said.
“He wants to resign because he feels that the Arab League has taken themselves in a directions which is a bit different from the UN,” said the Security Council diplomat.
Arab League: Observers deployed in late December to oversee compliance with a peace plan that included an end to violence, the withdrawal of troops from the streets and the release of political prisoners. But the monitoring mission was suspended after little more than a month as fighting continued.
Kofi Annan: Six-point plan for Syria included the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from urban areas, and an open-ended ceasefire that was meant to take effect on 12 April and lead to peace talks. But neither side fully adhered to the plan and violence continued to escalate.
Lakhdar Brahimi: New UN-Arab League envoy toured the Middle East in October, seeking support for a ceasefire over the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts 26 October. The truce, backed by the UN Security Council, is designed to kick-start political reconciliati
#Syrian war looms over UN meeting of world leaders
UNITED NATIONS — Hovering over this month’s annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations is the international community’s failure to end the escalating war in Syria that is starting to spill over into a fragile and divided region.
The Syrian conflict has bitterly divided the most powerful members of the Security Council, paralyzing the only U.N. body that can impose global sanctions and authorize military action.
It frustrated former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, who quit his high-profile role as special envoy to the country last month, giving reasons that amounted to scathing criticism of world powers for failing to unite to stop the chaos in the Arab state.
There will be a flurry of meetings on the sidelines of the VIP gathering at the General Assembly that begins Sept. 25, including a ministerial meeting of the Security Council’s five veto-wielding members and lots of behind-the-scenes discussions among the more than 130 heads of state and government coming to New York. But frustrated diplomats don’t expect any breakthrough on Syria, and outside observers agree.
This “means we’re heading into a very dark time in Syria — more violence and a slow grinding conflict that’s going to test everyone’s limits on non-intervention,” Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow and Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.
“I think it’s the elephant in the room in the sense that it’s a lightning rod issue,” Tabler said. “It’s a crisis the U.N. is unable to deal with. And so, basically what happens is that you’re going to have a lot of speeches … but unless you get the Security Council agreeing I don’t see anything happening.”
Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, the division among the five powerful permanent council nations has deepened.
The United States, Britain and France have tried unsuccessfully to get the council to put pressure on President Bashar Assad’s government to halt the fighting and pull back its heavy weapons.
Russia, Syria’s key protector, and China, which is supporting Moscow, are demanding equal pressure on the opposition and say the West’s real goal is regime change, which could lead to a takeover of Syria by Islamist radicals. Russia is the major arms supplier to Syria and has a base in Tartus. It is its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union that serves Russian navy ships on missions to the Mediterranean.
Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions, the latest in July which included the threat of non-military sanctions.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Monday that the Security Council “has never been as paralyzed as it is today since the end of the Cold War.”
France is now working with the U.S., Britain, Turkey, Arab friends and the Syrian opposition in its fight against the Assad regime, he said.
“It is essential that we support the democratic opposition in Syria,” Araud said. “Some believe it is possible to choose between Assad and the Islamists. We tell them, ‘If you keep blocking, you’ll get Assad and then the Islamists.’”
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the council’s failure to support efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Annan to end the violence is “reprehensible and has only intensified the suffering of the Syrian people. “
“I am not optimistic in the short term that the dynamic in the council is going to change,” she said. “However, the United States is not allowing that to block our efforts to speed the day when Assad departs, through sanctions and political and nonlethal support for the opposition.”
President Barack Obama has called for Assad to step down, but the United States wants to ensure that whatever government replaces his regime is a democracy that respects the rights of all Syrians, particularly religious minorities and women.
Annan has been replaced with former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, a highly regarded diplomat and mediator who met Assad in Damascus on Saturday, but gave no indication of a breakthrough.
Many countries are hopeful that Brahimi can get the government and opposition to peace talks, but he has called his mission “nearly impossible.”
He has said he is still holding talks with key players and does not have a plan yet.
“I will go to New York for the occasion of the General Assembly, to meet the Security Council and foreign ministers and representatives of countries that have interest, influence or both concerning Syria,” Brahimi said.
The Security Council has given its support to Brahimi, but its division is so deep now that members couldn’t even agree on a statement last month on the humanitarian crisis. The conflict has left some 3 million Syrians inside and outside the country in need of food and other assistance.
Michael Weiss, research director at the London-based Henry Jackson Society think tank, said no breakthrough is likely at the General Assembly because Russian President Vladimir Putin has done nothing “to repudiate Assad.” Also, he added, Obama is reluctant to intervene in the Middle East as he fights for reelection on a record of ending the U.S. military role in Iraq and setting a 2014 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan.
“All you are going to see for the next six months or longer is this continuing state of civil war,” Weiss said. “The rebels may assassinate members of the Assad regime, but until they have parity of weaponry and forces, Damascus will not fall.”
The West has hesitated to arm the rebels for fear that costly and lethal equipment could fall into the hands of extremists like al-Qaida, or get lost. The rebels have received weapons delivered via Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere, according to activists and diplomats. Some of the arms, activists say, are purchased with Saudi and Qatari funds.
The Syrian conflict, which began as a protest against four decades of dictatorship by the Assad family, was spawned by the Arab Spring, the pro-democracy wave of uprisings across the Middle East that began when Tunisians rose up in January 2011 against their longtime dictator.
The changes in the Arab world since then are the theme of a ministerial-level meeting of the Security Council on Sept. 26 on the sidelines of the General Assembly speeches.
Germany U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current Security Council president whose foreign minister will be presiding at that meeting, said “there will be council members who will speak out on Syria.” But he said the focus of the meeting will be the emergence of the Arab League as a key player in the Middle East with “a lot more clout.”
Supporters of a democratic government in Syria — the “Friends of Syria” — are also scheduled to meet on Sept. 28 at a session chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Their last meeting in Paris in July brought together some 100 nations including the U.S., its European and Arab partners, as well as the fractious Syrian opposition, all looking to turn up the heat to force Assad from power.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said “Syria will be at or near the top of the agenda at most of the key bilateral meetings.”
There will also be a meeting of foreign ministers and development ministers “to galvanize support for refugees and those displaced within Syria,” he said.
Earlier this month, the United Nations nearly doubled its humanitarian appeal for Syria to $347 million, even though the original appeal for $180 million is only half-funded. The secretary-general has urged donors to increase their contributions.
Another issue certain to make headlines during the General Assembly is the dispute over Iran’s nuclear intentions.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who insists his country’s nuclear program is peaceful, will address the assembly on Sept. 26. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has accused Iran of trying to build a nuclear arsenal, takes the podium on Sept. 27.
And on that day political directors from the six countries trying to get Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — will meet behind closed doors, possibly followed by a ministerial session.
DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syrian troops on Sunday fought rebel fighters in the country’s two main cities Damascus and Aleppo, as Iran acknowledged for the first time it has elite forces present in Syria and Lebanon as “counselors.”
The relentless violence affected the start on Sunday of the educational year, with activists saying few schools opened in flashpoint areas, including Aleppo, and the UN reporting more than than 2,000 schools damaged or destroyed countrywide since the uprising began 18 months ago.
Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to calls for an end to the bloodletting, urging Arab countries to propose workable solutions to the conflict, while celebrating mass in neighbouring Lebanon.
Violence that raged from early Sunday killed another 20 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that 115 had died the previous day.
Troops pounded districts in Damascus, Aleppo in the north, Daraa in the south, Hama and Homs in the centre and Deir Ezzor in the east with aerial bombardments and heavy artillery, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Among those who died were four men killed in shelling of the rebel southern Damascus suburb of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and seven others when a bus was bombed in Daraa province, cradle of 18 months of insurgency against the central government.
A child and a media activist meanwhile were killed in Aleppo, where the army and rebels have fought fierce battles since July to control Syria’s second city and commercial hub.
In a rare news conference, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said in Tehran on Sunday that members of his elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, are present in Syria and Lebanon.
He insisted however that they were only there to provide “counsel.”
“A number of Quds Force members are present in Syria and Lebanon… we provide (these countries) with counsel and advice, and transfer experience to them,” Guards commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said.
“But it does not mean that we have a military presence there,” he added.
Several Western and Arab countries accuse Iran of giving military aid to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as the Syria conflict becomes increasingly bloody.
The latest violence comes as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared Sunday to meet with leaders of the opposition tolerated by the government, anti-regime forces said.
The talks come after he met Assad on Saturday and warned that the conflict threatens both the region and the world at large, on his first visit to Damascus since taking over as envoy from ex-UN chief Kofi Annan earlier this month.
“The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world,” said Brahimi, a veteran troubleshooter and 78-year-old Algerian diplomat.
He stressed, however, that he currently has “no plan” to tackle the thorny mission which Annan quit after a hard-sought peace deal he had brokered became a dead letter.
Assad, meanwhile, insisted that dialogue between Syrians was the key to a solution and urged foreign countries to stop supplying arms to his foes.
“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,” Assad said.
As fighting raged in Damascus and Aleppo, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday celebrated mass in neighbouring Lebanon, praying that leaders in the Middle East work toward peace and reconciliation.
“In a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary,” Benedict said to an estimated 350,000 faithful at open-air mass in Beirut.
“May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence,” the pope said.
He also appealed to Arab countries that, “as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person.”
Syrian’s violence has spilled over into Lebanon where supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime have squared off in often deadly clashes over the past months.
On Saturday the 85-year-old pontiff had words of praise for young Syrians, saying: “I want to tell you how much I admire your courage.”
Despite the disruption to schooling in Aleppo and other flashpoint areas, Syrian state media on Sunday announced that “more than five million students and 385,000 teachers and employees” went back to school.
“Nine hundreds schools are open in the capital,” the head of the Damascus prefecture Ammar Qaloo said, but added that 13 schools are being used as shelters for civilians displaced by the violence.
A UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, described the return to school as an “immense challenge.”
“For children, being back at school is one of the most effective ways of giving them a sense of stability, hope and normality,” said Mercado.
“It really is a hugely important way of enabling children who have gone through a nightmare to see that they do have a future.”
The death toll from 18 months into the Syrian conflict has risen to more than 27,000 people, according to the Observatory, which relies on activist accounts from the ground. The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000.
Former peace envoy Kofi Annan says Russia must act to end #Syria conflict
Former peace envoy Kofi Annan has warned that the violent struggle between the Syrian government and opposition forces risks tearing the country apart.
Kofi Annan said the international community needs to ‘get its act together’
He said it could spill over Syria’s borders to spread sectarian war across the region.
Mr Annan called on the international community to “get its act together”.
He said his successor Lakhdar Brahimi will need the support of all members of the UN Security Council - including Russia - to have a chance of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.
Mr Annan quit as the UN and Arab League’s envoy to Syria in August, complaining of a lack of support from the Security Council.
Russia and China have blocked resolutions designed to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
The former UN secretary general told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “If the international community doesn’t get its act together and find a way of pressuring the parties to give up their ambitions on the battlefield, we are going to see a situation where sectarian war will spread in Syria and probably go beyond its borders.
“Syria is not Libya. Libya imploded, Syria will not implode but in all likelihood explode, and explode beyond its borders.
“That mosaic of Syria, if we tear it apart, is going to be very difficult to put together again.”
Mr Annan warned that “there can be no military solution” to the challenge presented to Mr Assad’s regime by the uprising which began in March 2011.
But he said: “Today it looks as if both sides have decided the way to resolve this is through the battlefield, which is in my judgement the wrong approach.
“It is going to lead to protracted war with the possibility of enflaming the region and killing thousands and thousands of Syrians.”
Mr Annan said that veteran Algerian diplomat Mr Brahimi, who took up his post as peace envoy at the start of this month, will be dependent on strong support from the Security Council to make an impact.
“Lakhdar Brahimi is experienced, he can make a contribution if he gets the support he needs - not passive support, but real support from the Security Council,” he said.
Asked if this must include Russia, Mr Annan replied: “Exactly. Alone, he cannot do it.”
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY | Associated Press Associated Press/Nasser Nasser - U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi attends a meeting with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Althani, both unseen, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser
BEIRUT (AP) — The new international envoy to Syria arrived in Damascus on Thursday for his first visit to the country since he took up the post in the midst of Syria’s devastating civil war.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, was expected to meet Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday. He also was to meet members of the Syrian opposition.
“We are confident that Mr. Brahimi understands the developments and the way to solve problems despite all the complications,” Faisal Mekdad, deputy Syrian foreign minister, told reporters in Damascus. “We are optimistic and wish Brahimi luck.”
Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan, who left the job in frustration in August after his efforts failed to stem a conflict that started in March 2011. Activists estimate some 23,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.
Also Thursday, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad’s regime is “doomed” and should not be allowed to survive after the crimes it has committed against its people. He said a transition of power is the only way forward.
“That is the only way to avoid protracted civil war, or the collapse of the Syrian state, or an even greater flow of refugees and loss of life,” Hague said at a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari.
AP writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report from Baghdad.
#Syria, Brahimi to meet Assad during Damascus visit New UN-Arab League envoy warns not to “expect miracles” this week as bombardment resumes in Aleppo rebel districts.
Just a few weeks after admitting his task was “nearly impossible”, special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to meet both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition members when he travels to the war-torn country this week.
Ahead of Brahimi’s visit, heavy fighting has continued across the country, including in Aleppo, where government forces targeted rebel positions on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people, activists said.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, announced in Bern that Brahimi would meet Assad, without providing more details about the highly anticipated visit.
Ahmad Fawzi, Brahimi’s spokesman, said the envoy, selected by the UN and Arab League to replace Kofi Annan, would also meet representatives of the Syrian opposition.
“Brahimi will go to Damascus in the next few days. He will meet with President Assad and other officials, officials from the opposition, as well as representatives of civil society,” Fawzi said.
According to several UN diplomats, Brahimi was expected to arrive in Damascus by Thursday.
Annan quit in August over divisions within the UN Security Council that have prevented much action to halt the deadly violence that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months.
The head of the UN’s refugee programme has told Al Jazeera that he plans to launch a new appeal for aid, estimating that another 650,000 Syrians might flee their country, in addition to the 250,000 who have already left.
Both sides accused
Syrian guns pounded rebel positions in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, after a comparatively quiet morning on Tuesday.
Drinking water supplies - cut off in many areas of the city after a main pipe was blown open during fighting and air raids on Saturday - were restored after repairs, a resident told the AFP news agency.
The city is Syria’s commercial hub, and its middle and upper classes were bastions of support for Assad. If the rebels took such a key city, it would give them a quasi-capital to complement the large swaths of territory they control in the north, up to the Turkish border.
In Damascus, an explosion rocked the upscale western district of Mezzeh overnight, and pro-regime fighters fought rebels in Barzeh, another wealthy neighbourhood, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist organisation.
In Deir Az Zor province in the east, warplanes bombarded the town of Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, killing four people, including three women.
They also hit several districts of Deir Az Zor city, where clashes broke out and rebels deployed anti-aircraft guns. Rebels recently seized an air base outside of Abu Kamal.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory.
The UN puts the death toll at 20,000.
Some doctors at makeshift clinics in Aleppo have told reporters they believe as many as 80 per cent of their patients are civilians wounded by indirect shelling and unpredictable gunfire.
The European Union’s top humanitarian chief, Kristalina Georgieva, said on Tuesday that both sides in the war are increasingly violating human rights law.
The Syrian government and allied militias have been accused by the UN and Western governments of numerous large-scale massacres, though the rebels are also facing fresh allegations of mass killings.
Amateur YouTube video posted on Monday showed images of 20 dead Syrian soldiers, blindfolded and handcuffed, after they were apparently executed in the northern city of Aleppo.
The UN’s refugee agency has said that more than 1.2 million Syrians, over half of them children, have become internally displaced.
Brahimi, who is in Cairo, said he would travel to Damascus in a few days to meet Syrian officials, but he has been unclear on whether he would be able to meet Assad himself.
Expectations that Brahimi will have any more success than Annan are low, however, and he himself warned Monday: “We cannot expect miracles.”
His pessimism appears warranted, since his mission begins with the US and Russia split on how to tackle the conflict and as fighting only escalates.
Yet Ban insisted that these “intolerable circumstances” must come to an end and that “the violence must stop by both sides.”
He said he understood the frustration felt by many in the face of the Security Council’s apparent paralysis in dealing with the worsening crisis.
He called on “all member states [to show] a common sense of common responsibility where human rights, human dignity are abused”.
“Those countries who might have influence over two parties should exercise” that influence and should work towards “a political resolution reflecting the genuine aspirations of the Syrian people”.
Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said his country - which has taken a lead role opposing Assad - had been assisting officials in defecting from the regime. “It’s our role,” he said. “Our agencies are active.”
General Manaf Tlass, one of the most senior members of Assad’s rule to flee Syria, said on Monday he had defected in July with the help of French special forces.
GENEVA — Kofi Annan’s time as a would-be peacemaker among Syria’s warring parties is over, and he quietly exited the role Friday having failed to end the conflict in the Arab state. Now the task falls to another veteran U.N. diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Unlike Annan, who for the past six months has been based in Geneva, his home, Brahimi will make his base in New York. There, he hopes he can better influence the U.N. Security Council to unite around a plan to end the violence in Syria.
As the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Annan – who did not issue a farewell statement – blamed divisions on the 15-nation Security Council for the failure to persuade Syria’s government and the opposition to end their 17-month conflict, which began as a popular uprising but morphed into a civil war.
Russia and China used their vetoes on the council to block U.N. sanctions against the Syrian regime, despite entreaties by the U.S. and other Western nations. As the council members bickered, the bodies have piled up in Syria: activists say the fighting has claimed more than 20,000 lives so far.
“It’s a mission that could have been made possible had the international community been more united,” Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told The Associated Press on Friday. “They have expressed support in various statements. But in fact, this support is not translated on the ground. And this means exerting the kind of influence that would make the parties listen.”
Annan was named the envoy to the Arab state in February. He came up with a six-point peace plan to resolve Syria’s crisis, including a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in mid-April. But the plan did not take hold.
Fawzi said critics who say the process “gave the regime time and space to go on killing its people are unfair, in that the killing was going on anyway. With or without the mediator, the killing was going on, and the killing was going on for over a year before he was appointed.”
With Annan’s exit, Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who has been a U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, starts Saturday trying to succeed where Annan couldn’t. Brahimi told AP that his first task will be to overcome the divisions in the Security Council that undermined Annan’s efforts and get it to speak “with a unified voice.” He said military intervention “is not supported by anybody.”
On Friday, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said in an operational update that since mid-July, fighting in and around Damascus has been escalating almost without interruption. “The situation in many parts of Syria is currently edging towards irreversible deterioration. Assisting the fast-growing number of needy people is a top priority,” it said.
Yemen’s former U.N. ambassador, Abdullah Alsaidi, said Annan had “good intentions” in taking on a nearly impossible job. But Annan should have spent more time in New York, where the Security Council is based, and he should have talked directly with Syrian opposition leaders, rather than delegating that job to a deputy, Alsaidi said.
“I think what he did was he created a momentum and the imperative for a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Alsaidi, now a senior fellow with the New York-based International Peace Institute, told AP.
“I think he did accentuate the fact that unless there is peaceful resolution of this conflict, Syria will deteriorate into a quagmire that is not different from what happened in Iraq, with spillover into other countries. But he was reluctant to meet with the Syrian opposition … and I think that was a drawback.”
Brahimi against Annan’s ‘failed approach’ on Syria-source
* Lakhdar Brahimi still weighing Syria envoy job-source
* France says Syria envoy job an ‘impossible mission’
* U.N. Security Council to be briefed on Syria on Thursday
By Michelle Nichols and Mirna Sleiman
UNITED NATIONS/DUBAI, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is not prepared to persist with the same “failed approach” on Syria as Kofi Annan, said a source close to the situation on Wednesday, and he is still considering whether to take on what France dubbed an “impossible mission.”
Brahimi has been asked by the United Nations and the Arab League to replace Annan as their mediator on Syria at the end of the month, but diplomats say Brahimi has reservations and wants “strong support” from a deadlocked U.N. Security Council.
“It’s an … impossible mission, so I do understand that people hesitate to take this (on),” French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, who is the Security Council president for the month of August, told reporters.
Annan said he was stepping down after six months in the job because he was hampered by the Security Council’s hopelessly divided veto powers. Russia and China have vetoed three western-backed resolutions criticizing and threatening sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
It was not immediately clear what “strong support” Brahimi wanted from the 15-member council. Several Security Council diplomats said he had not made any specific requests regarding the form of support he wanted.
The source close to the situation said Brahimi wanted an agreement between the council’s permanent veto powers - China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain - on Syria, but Security Council diplomats said such a deal was highly unlikely.
“Many want him (Brahimi) to just step into Kofi’s shoes and just go on and either persist with the same failed approach or invent something unlikely,” the source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
“Even though he is pressured on all sides to accept, he still has not accepted pending a number of basic conditions,” the source said. “His conditions are the minimum for such a mission to go on.”
An Arab League source, who declined to be identified, said Brahimi believed Annan failed because he lacked “crucial” U.N. Security Council support. But he added: “It is not clear to us what Brahimi wants exactly.” Another diplomat in New York echoed the source’s comments, saying Brahimi’s demands were “vague.”
Other candidates to replace Annan, envoys said, include former European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana of Spain, former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelilah al-Khatib, and Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura.
RISING DEATH TOLL
Annan’s plan to end Syria’s 17-month conflict - which calls for an end to violence, a Syrian-led political process, access for aid, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the freedom to protest peacefully - failed to take hold, despite commitments from both sides.
The United States, which has stepped up non-lethal support to the rebels, saw little point in replacing Annan, given Russia’s staunch opposition to sanctions, diplomats said. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are arming the rebels, diplomats say, and voiced little support for Annan’s peace efforts.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that more than 18,000 have been killed in the conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011 with a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
“The Syrian people have suffered too much too long. We cannot go on this way. The international community must feel the sense of collective responsibility on this situation,” Ban told a news conference while visiting East Timor.
The U.N. Security Council is due to be briefed on the situation in Syria on Thursday.
It is expected to allow a U.N. observer mission in Syria to expire on Sunday because violence has not receded enough for it to function properly. Russia has called for the monitors to remain, but the United States has made its opposition clear.
The mission’s initial 300 unarmed observers, whose role has been to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire, suspended their activity on June 16 because of increased risk from rising violence. There are also over 70 civilian staff working on a political solution and monitoring human rights violations.
U.N. diplomats have said that if the mission is allowed to expire, Ban would not need a new resolution from the deadlocked Security Council in order to maintain a political and humanitarian presence in the country.
For the first time in the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, Syria’s two largest cities are simultaneous battlegrounds.
Both are crucial prizes in an increasingly brutal struggle that has eluded all attempts at a diplomatic solution and risks igniting a wider conflagration.
In Aleppo’s Salaheddine district, rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) hid in alleyways, dodging Syrian army bullets and tank rounds that hit one building.
“There is one helicopter and we’re hearing two explosions every minute,” said a journalist contacted inside the city by satellite phone.
A Syrian activist also confirmed that earlier yesterday rebel fighters tried to extend their area of control from the Salaheddine district, where the most intense fighting has been focused, north to the area around the television and radio station.
“The Free Syrian Army pushed from Salaheddine to al-Adhamiya where they clashed this morning with Syrian troops. But they had to retreat,” said the activist, who identified himself as Barraa al-Halabi.
A 19-year-old fighter called Mu’awiya al-Halabi, who was at the scene, said army snipers surrounded the station and targeted the rebels.
“We were inside it for a few hours after clashes with the Syrian army but they sent snipers and surrounded the TV station, and as soon as morning came, the army started shooting. One of our fighters was martyred and four were wounded.”
Black smoke rose from Salaheddine, seen as a gateway for the Syrian army into the city of 2.5 million. Its fate could determine the outcome of a war that has claimed 18,000 lives.
Another rebel commander in Aleppo expected a Syrian army attack on rebels “within days”, echoing Herve Ladsous, head of the United Nation’s peacekeeping department, who said there had been a “considerable buildup of military means”.
“We have information that the Syrian army is planning a strong offensive against Aleppo. We know they are planning to attack the city using tanks and aircraft, shooting at us for three to four days and they plan to take the city,” said Colonel Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi.
Faced with the Syrian army’s superior firepower, Oqaidi said the rebels were counting on mass defections by government soldiers once the offensive started.
“At the moment the soldiers cannot leave their bases and they are too afraid to defect. Once they are inside our city they will take off their uniforms and join us,” he said.
In the capital, Damascus, a resident in the Adawi neighbourhood just north of the central Old City yesterday reported loud explosions and jets flying overhead.
“The bombardment has been continuous since 7am in Tadamun district. It hasn’t stopped for a moment,” said the Adawi resident.
Syrian soldiers were on the streets, telling people to stay indoors because of clashes in the nearby Basateen area. On Friday, they stormed Tadamun, the last rebel stronghold in the city.
The escalation in the fighting comes as efforts to find a diplomatic solution continue to be elusive.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is quitting as international peace envoy for Syria, said on Thursday that Assad should step down. He urged Syrian allies Russia, China and Iran to persuade Assad to embrace political transition.
Annan complained of “finger pointing” at the United Nations while bloodshed in Syria went on.
Yesterday, China hit back at criticism of its stance over the crisis after a vote at the United Nations which overwhelmingly condemned the Syrian government, repeating Beijing’s position that outside interference will not help.
“Those countries which have made unfounded criticism about China’s position on Syria … have, in pursuit of their own geopolitical interests in Syria, tried to hinder or undermine the political settlement process and are trying to shift responsibility for the difficulties onto other countries,” said Wang Kejian of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Russia and China voted down a Security Council resolution on Syria last month, the third time they have vetoed resolutions meant to isolate Assad and end the conflict.
Notion of #Syria power transition “an illusion”: Iran FM
BEIRUT | Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:58am EDT
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The idea of a managed transition of power inSyria is an “illusion,” Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday, as his Syrian counterpart expressed Damascus’ commitment to international mediator Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
“Thinking naively and wrongly that if there is a power vacuum perhaps in Syria and if there is a transition of power in Syria, simply another government will come to power, that I think is just a dream,” Ali Akbar Salehi said at a news conference with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moualem.
“It’s an illusion. We have to look carefully at Syria and what’s happening inside the country.”
Moualem said Syria was also committed to Annan’s six-point plan that aims to end 16 months of violence in which 18,000 people have been killed.
The plan calls for a ceasefire, which has been widely ignored by both sides, as a first stage in the political transition to ending the violence.
It also calls for access for aid, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the freedom to protest peacefully.
“We are committed to fulfill Mr. Annan’s plan fully because we consider this plan a reasonable plan,” he said.
Moualem said Syria was able to defend every inch of its soil from what he called a conspiracy by armed terrorist groups that served Israel’s interests.
“I assure you the Syrian people are insistent, not just on confronting this conspiracy, but they are insistent on emerging victorious,” Moualem, who has not appeared since a bomb attack killed four of President Bashar al-Assad’s top security officials nearly two weeks ago.
“Today I tell you, Syria is stronger … In less than a week, they were defeated and the battle failed (in Damascus) so they moved on to Aleppo, and I assure you, their plots will fail,” said Moualem.
Reuters - International mediator Kofi Annan said he feared an “imminent battle” for Syria’s biggest city Aleppo.
Syrian opposition sources said helicopters from President Bashar al-Assad’s military pounded a rebel-held part of the city on Saturday and armored units were positioned for an onslaught that could determine its fate.
“I am concerned about reports of the concentration of troops and heavy weapons around Aleppo, in anticipation of an imminent battle,” Annan said in a statement.
“The escalation of the military build-up in Aleppo and the surrounding area is further evidence of the need for the international community to come together to persuade the parties that only a political transition, leading to a political settlement, will resolve this crisis.”
But a Syrian opposition leader urged foreign allies to circumvent the divided U.N. Security Council and intervene.
“Our friends and allies will bear responsibility for what is happening in Aleppo if they do not move soon,” said Abdelbasset Sida, the head of the Syrian National Council which is the main umbrella group for opposition to Assad.
“Any action has to be from outside the Security Council through an Arab League initiative and through a resolution passed by the General Assembly,” he said early on Sunday on a visit to the United Arab Emirates for talks with officials.
French President Francois Hollande said he would keep trying to convince Russia andChina, which have Security Council vetoes, to support harder sanctions against Assad that they have opposed during the 16-month-old uprising.
“I will once more addressRussiaand China so that they recognize there would be chaos and civil war if Bashar al-Assad isn’t soon stopped,” said Hollande.
He said the Syrian government knew it was doomed and would use force until the very end, adding: “The role of the member states of the U.N. Security Council is to step in as quickly as possible.”
Russia played down speculation that it might offer Assad asylum, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Saturday Moscow had no such agreement and was not even thinking about it.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, reported helicopter attacks on Aleppo’s central Salaheddine district and fighting elsewhere in the city.
“Helicopters are participating in clashes at the entrance of Salaheddine district and bombarding it,” it said.
One opposition activist said he had seen tanks and armored troop carriers heading for the district.
On the approaches to Aleppo from the north many villagers were still shopping or tending their fields. But fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army were also in evidence.
One man in his 40s, carrying his family on a motorcycle, said he was fleeing the fighting in the city.
“We are living in a war zone,” he told Reuters. “I and my relatives are just going back and forth, trying to stay away from the fighting. We left Aleppo when we saw smoke and helicopters firing.”
The battle for the city of 2.5 million people is seen as a crucial test for a government that has committed major military resources to holding control of its two main power centers, Aleppo in the north and the capital Damascus.
While neither side has managed to gain the upper hand, the uprising is being watched anxiously outside Syria amid fears sectarian conflict could spill over its borders. Minority Alawites have dominated through more than 40 years of Assad family rule in Syria, which has a Sunni Muslim majority.
Military experts believe that while Assad’s more powerful forces will overcome the rebels in Aleppo and other major cities, it risks loss of control in the countryside because the loyalty of large sections of the army is in doubt.
Three rebel fighters were killed in clashes before dawn on Saturday in Aleppo, the Observatory said. It said 160 people were reported killed in Syria on Friday, adding to an overall death toll of around 18,000 since the uprising began.
Video footage provided by the Observatory showed smoke rising over apartment blocks in the city into a hazy sky on Saturday. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be clearly heard.
Fighting was reported in other towns across Syria: Deraa, the cradle of the revolution, Homs, the scene of some of the bloodiest combat, and Hama.
At least 10 people were killed on Saturday when security forces went into Maadameyat al-Sham near Damascus, the Observatory said.
Russia has said international support for Syrian rebels would lead to “more blood” and the government could not be expected to willingly give in to its opponents.
It has also said it would not allow searches of Russian-flagged ships under new European Union sanctions governing vessels suspected of carrying weapons to Syria.
The increase in fighting in Aleppo follows a bomb attack on July 18 that killed Assad’s defense minister and three other top officials in Damascus, a development that led some analysts to speculate that the government’s grip was slipping.
AMMAN — British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday the crisis in Syria is too unpredictable to rule out “any option,” insisting that a Chapter VII resolution of the US Security Council is needed.
“The situation (in Syria) is so grave and so unpredictable that I do not think any option should be ruled out in the future,” Hague said in Amman at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh.
“Clearly, we have failed so far. The process that (peace envoy) Kofi Annan has launched has failed so far to bring about a peaceful political process and so now we need the Security Council to greatly strengthen the pressure for that to happen.”
Britain, France, United States, Germany and Portugal want a resolution adopted at the Security Council that includes the threat of sanctions if the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not halt the use of heavy weapons in compliance with a six-point UN-backed peace plan.
Hague urged Russia and China to “take greater note of the scale of the bloodshed and the need to bring it to an end and the desperate situation of the sort of people that we met at the Syrian border today.”
Earlier Tuesday, Hague and Judeh met with Syrian refugees in the border town of Ramtha, where the British minister slammed the “barbarity and criminality of the Assad regime.”
“What we have seen today should leave us in no doubt at all that a Chapter VII resolution is required,” Hague told the press conference.
Chapter VII of the UN charter allows for punitive measures against regimes considered a threat to world peace, including economic sanctions and military intervention.
Hague added that this is “to mandate the implementation of Annan’s peace plan and a transitional government in Syria with a peaceful political process and to bring about the imposition of globally agreed sanctions on those who obstruct the implementation of that plan.”
During a tour of Ramtha’s Bashabsheh housing complex, a military-guarded compound that houses around 1,000 Syrian refugees, one of them told the British top diplomat that “we just want you to get rid of Bashar.”
Hague replied: “Is that what you all would recommend?”
One man answered: “Yes sir please.” Another refugee snapped: “If you do not want to take a military act against the regime, give us weapons and the Syrians will fight.”
Hague described the deadly violence in Syria as “horrible.”
“It is horrible to hear the accounts of what is happening (in Syria) from people here, many of them coming from close by over the borders,” said Hague, the most senior British official to visit the refugees in Jordan.
The news reports that are coming out of Syria, “assure the barbarity and criminality of the Assad regime.”
“The horrors of the crimes committed by Assad are clearly on display when you talk to people just over the borders from Syria,” he told reporters.
And he said his country was training human rights activists to document abuses in Syria.
“We have trained 47 activists. We will train 20 more to document human rights abuses that are being committed and we are also giving help to people through (UN refuges agency) UNHCR to help pay for accommodation, water, food, sanitation,” he said. He did not elaborate.
Jordan is hosting more than 140,000 Syrians, many of whom are living with relatives in Ramtha, and is building several refugee camps for them. More than 27,344 of the refugees are registered with the United Nations.
“For the past few days, we have been receiving 700 Syrians a day,” Kamel Deriche, UNHCR assistant representative in Jordan, told AFP.
The diplomats also visited UN offices near the Bashabsheh complex — which consists of six apartment buildings, tents and huge storage containers — to examine procedures to register the refugees.
Clinton to attend Paris talks on #Syria: US official
WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a US delegation to talks on the conflict in Syria being hosted by France this week, a US official confirmed Tuesday.
The “secretary will lead our delegation to the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris,” the State Department official told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.
The confirmation came just after France, which is hosting the third meeting of the group seeking to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, said Russia had refused to attend.
The United States, France, Britain, Germany, and Arab nations Saudi Arabia and Qatar are leading members of the Friends, whose more than 60 members include most of the EU states and many countries making up the Arab League.
Friday’s Paris talks will come less than a week after a gathering in Geneva endorsed a blueprint for a political transition in Syria, riven by 16 months of fighting against the iron-fisted regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Our hope and expectation is that many of the countries who were not able to participate in the Geneva meeting, but will now be at the Friends meeting in Paris, will have had a chance to study the document,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday.
They would be “able to add their voices to those of us who have already endorsed it as a strong way forward.”
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan drew up the plan which was adopted Saturday in Geneva, but it has been heavily criticized for not including a direct call for Assad to step down.
US officials have insisted that no future transitional government would include what they call “Assad and his cronies.”
Russia has backed the Geneva accord, but on Tuesday accused the West of seeking to “distort” the agreement for the political transition.
Nuland said Monday that it was hoped the countries attending the Paris talks would “give special envoy Kofi Annan their political support going forward.”