Peace envoy to visit Syria to work out Eid ceasefire

AMMAN Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:19pm BST

1 of 15. Members of the Free Syrian Army stand guard at an area they set fire to, to mark the front line between their clash with pro-government forces, in the city of Aleppo, October 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

Related Video

AMMAN (Reuters) - The international mediator on Syria will go to Damascus in the next few days to try to broker a brief ceasefire in the war between President Bashar al-Assad's government and rebels during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, told reporters on Thursday after meeting Jordan's foreign minister that a respite in hostilities could build confidence and help bring about a longer truce in the 19-month-old conflict.

"Yes I am going to Syria. This appeal we made to our Syrian brothers, whether in the government or against the government, to stop fighting in the three or four days of the Eid next week," Brahimi said.

A previous ceasefire in April collapsed after just a few days, with each side blaming the other. Mediator Kofi Annan resigned his post in frustration a few months later.

Since then the war pitting Assad's troops against a loosely-organised rebel force trying to end his 12-year-old rule has intensified. The daily death toll routinely tops 100 combatants and civilians and fighting rages in cities including Aleppo, the country's commercial centre, and the capital Damascus.

The truce would be self-imposed with no monitoring.

"This is an appeal to the Syrians themselves that they stop fighting and observe it themselves. This is not the political process or the solution required to the Syrian crisis," Brahimi said.

The Syrian government guardedly welcomed the proposal but said any initiative must be respected by both sides. Turkey, one of Assad's harshest critics, and Iran, one of his strongest allies, both backed the plan, in rare display of agreement.

Brahimi will meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Saturday, an official in Damascus said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Damascus hoped Brahimi's talks in the region, including with countries which back the rebels, could herald "something which leads to the success of a constructive initiative".

Brahimi's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the envoy, a veteran Algerian diplomat, was working on a new, comprehensive peace plan.

"It's difficult to put a timeline on it but it's all coming together. He has completed the circle with this tour of neighbouring countries. He needs to go now to the outer circle, to Moscow and China, and look them in the eye and say this will not work unless you support it," Fawzi said.

Russia, which sold Syria arms worth $1 billion last year, and China have vetoed three resolutions favoured by Western powers condemning Syrian authorities and opening the way to U.N. sanctions on Damascus.

The Kremlin denies trying to prop up Assad, who allows Russia to maintain a naval supply facility in the port of Tartus that is its only military base outside the former Soviet Union.

Moscow says Syria's crisis must be resolved without foreign interference, particularly military intervention.

The Syrian government, which portrays the war as aggression by terrorists instigated by its international enemies, said on Thursday it had written to the United Nations to protest about foreign support for the opposition.

"Evidence on involvement of foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, in supporting and arming the terrorist groups in Syria has recently increased," the foreign ministry said in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.

GUNS IN DAMASCUS

Violence wracked the country on Thursday, from the eastern desert city of Hassake, where five soldiers were killed when rebels ambushed a military truck, to Damascus, where government forces were bombarding outlying suburbs.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were wounded when warplanes bombed the northern town of Maarat al-Numan, which straddles the main north-south highway connecting Damascus with Aleppo and was captured by rebels last week.

The official SANA news agency said troops were "cleaning villages" in the countryside around Maarat, killing and wounding many rebels. Government forces have been making a strong push to retake Maarat, including using air strikes.

In an extensive report on fighting across Syria, SANA said a large number of insurgents had been killed in attacks in several districts of Aleppo and elsewhere. The Observatory also reported clashes in Aleppo.

Insurgents had blown up a gas pipeline from Deir Ezzor to Palmyra in the central Syrian desert and an oil pipeline from al-Omar field to Atteim field in north of Deir Ezzor on Thursday, SANA said.

More than 140 Syrians were killed on Wednesday, including 62 unarmed civilians, 12 of them children, the Observatory said.

Syrian officials have questioned whether the rebels, who agreed on a joint leadership on Tuesday to encourage supporters to provide them with more powerful weapons, could commit to or honour any ceasefire deal.

But Brahimi said on Wednesday opposition figures had told him any ceasefire by Assad's forces would be reciprocated immediately.

"We heard from everyone we met in the opposition, and everyone (else) we met that, if the government stops using violence, 'We will respond to this directly'," he said.

"We hope this will be a very small step that would save the Syrian people ... because they are burying hundreds of people every day."

The total death toll now stands at more than 30,000 and international players fear that if unchecked, the war could expand into a wider regional conflict between Sunni powers sympathetic to the rebels and Shi'ites who back Assad.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Peace envoy to visit Syria to work out Eid ceasefire

Reload and re-consolidate positions pause…

Oct 18, 2012 1:25pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Wvandamme wrote:
The west by its actions in Syria is intent on putting the whole Middle East on fire and for this end is using these Salafists whose understanding of the world is very limited. This policy is of an unseen cruelty.

Oct 18, 2012 4:45pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Wvandamme wrote:
Reuters by not stating this Syrian Observatory for ‘Human Rights’ is part of the opposition is deliberately misleading its readers. And how on earth are these Salafists ever to respect a diplomatic solution? Some of them have in fact been quoted again as saying they refuse a cease-fire. And by supporting these Salafists Laurent Fabius is part responsible for the war in the country and its destruction.

Oct 18, 2012 4:53pm BST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.