Lakhdar Brahimi. Photo by Reuters
The international envoy seeking a negotiated solution to
Syria's 21-month-old conflict says political change is needed
to end the violence which has killed 44,000 people.
Speaking in Damascus at the end of a five-day trip during
which he met President Bashar al-Assad, Lakhdar Brahimi
called for a transitional government to rule until elections
and said only substantial change would meet demands of
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added to the envoy's
call for a peaceful solution when he told a senior Syrian
diplomat that only a "broad inter-Syria dialogue and
political process" could end the crisis.
Brahimi's push for a transitional government suggested he was
trying to build on an international agreement in Geneva six
months ago which said a provisional body - which might
include members of Assad's government as well as the
opposition - should lead the country into a new election.
But the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have seized the
military initiative since the Geneva meeting in June and the
political opposition has ruled out any transitional
government in which Assad, from Syria's Alawite minority,
plays a role.
Rebel fighters resumed attacks on Thursday (local time)
against the military base of Wadi Deif, which lies next to
Syria's main north-south highway linking Aleppo with
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based
opposition group which monitors the violence, said rebels
also clashed with Assad's forces inside the Minakh air base
in Aleppo province after several days of fighting outside its
perimeter, although the army still controlled the base
Around the capital, Assad has used artillery and air strikes
for weeks to try to dislodge rebels from suburbs which ring
the east and south of the city.
"Certainly it was clear in Geneva, and it's even clearer now
that the change which is needed is not cosmetic or
superficial," Brahimi told a news conference in Damascus
before leaving Syria.
"I believe the Syrian people need, want and aspire to genuine
change and everyone knows what this means," he said.
"A government must be created ... with all the powers of the
state," Brahimi added. He said it should hold power for a
transitional period until elections - either for a new
president or a new parliament - are held.
"This transitional process must not lead to the ... collapse
of state institutions. All Syrians, and those who support
them, must cooperate to preserve those institutions and
strengthen them," he said.
Radwan Ziadeh of the opposition Syrian National Council
dismissed Brahimi's proposal as "unrealistic and fanciful"
and said a transitional government could not be built on the
same "security and intelligence structure as the existing
Too soon for a complete plan
Russia's Lavrov met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal
Makdad in Moscow on Thursday. Interfax news agency quoted
Lavrov as saying the chances of forging a solution based on
the Geneva agreement were decreasing, but it was necessary to
keep seeking a peaceful solution because the alternative is
"The longer it continues, the broader its scale and the worse
(it will be) for everyone," it quoted Lavrov as saying.
Syrian and Lebanese sources said Makdad had been sent to
Moscow to discuss details of a peace plan proposed by
Brahimi is due in Moscow on Saturday and said he also
expected to have a third joint meeting with U.S. and Russian
officials soon following two rounds of talks earlier this
month. But he denied the existence of a U.S.-Russian plan to
end the crisis and said it was too soon to present a
"What is preferred is that we don't present such a plan until
we feel that all sides have agreed to it. That way,
implementing it is easy. If that doesn't happen, the other
solution could be to go to the (United Nations) Security
Council to issue a binding resolution for everyone," he said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman also denied any joint
initiative between Moscow and Washington.
World powers remain divided over what has become an
increasingly sectarian struggle, with Sunni Muslim states
such as Turkey and the Gulf Arab countries supporting the
rebels while Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah have backed Assad,
whose Alawite community has its roots in Shi'ite Islam.
Syria's struggle "has taken a vicious form of sectarian
confrontation", Brahimi said. "Syrian officials foremost, as
well as the international community, must not let Syria slide
down this very dangerous path which threatens the future of
Deep differences between Western powers opposed to Assad -
led by the United States - and Russia and China which have
supported his government, have left the U.N. Security Council
paralysed and largely sidelined throughout the conflict.
The political stalemate has helped transform a once-peaceful
uprising into a civil war in which rebels have grown in
military strength and taken control of swathes of territory
in the north, leaving Assad increasingly reliant on air power
to curb them.
Activists in the central province of Hama, where rebels
launched an offensive last week to extend their control
southwards towards the capital, reported on Thursday that
rebels shot down a MiG fighter near the town of Morek.
The Syrian Observatory said air force fighters launched three
raids on rebel forces around Wadi Deif. The British-based
group also reported fierce clashes in the area.
The violence has been accompanied by an escalation in
apparently sectarian attacks between the Sunni Muslim
majority and minorities such as Assad's Alawite sect, which
has largely supported the president.
Activists in Hama uploaded a video of what appeared to be
Assad soldiers and shabbiha militia members stabbing the body
of a dead man and setting it on fire. The man looked as if he
had been beaten to death.
"This is a terrorist, a brother of a whore, one of those
trying to destroy the country," one of the men shouted. Two
men in camouflage uniforms and army helmets stood by
watching. Samer al-Hamawi, an activist from Hama, said rebels
in his area found the video on the phone of a soldier they
captured this week.
The video emerged a day after Islamist rebel units released
footage showing the bodies of dozens of Assad's fighters
along a highway near an Alawite town in Hama.