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UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned yesterday that the war in Syria is spiraling into “hell” and giving rise to warlords.
The Syrian army killed 143 people across the country yesterday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Fifty unidentified beheaded corpses with signs of torture were recovered behind Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus, the group said.
“The situation is bad and it’s getting worse,” Brahimi said in Cairo. “I can’t see anything other than these two paths: Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell.”
What is going to happen to Syria, he said at a news conference, “is ‘Somalization’ -- warlords and the Syrian people persecuted by people seizing its fate.”
Syrian forces yesterday attacked the Homs area of Khalidiya with mortars, while jets bombed towns outside of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement. Rebel forces shot down a helicopter in Idlib province, while in Aleppo the army battled Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., outside an arms factory, the group said.
More than 44,000 people have been killed in 22 months of violence that has pitted the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite-dominated security forces.
Brahimi’s comments in Cairo came a day after he met in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told reporters that Assad had told Brahimi in a meeting on Dec. 24 that he won’t quit before his term ends in 2014.
“It’s impossible” to change Assad’s position, Lavrov said in a Dec. 29 joint news conference with Brahimi.
Russia, Syria’s main international backer, on Dec. 28 called on Assad to make efforts toward a political settlement by holding talks with the opposition on all options. The U.S. and Russia, which have clashed over efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to oust Assad, are working together to negotiate a peaceful outcome to the uprising that started in March 2011.
“When the opposition says that only Assad’s departure would allow for the start of talks on the fate of the country, we think that’s incorrect,” Lavrov said. Maintaining that position is fueling the Syrian death toll, he said.
The conflict is becoming increasingly sectarian, Lavrov and Brahimi said Dec. 29.
“If Russia has a proposal to stop the bleeding in Syria, it should submit it and we will respond,” Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the main bloc of Syrian opposition groups, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview. “We can’t meet with the Russians without a clear agenda.”
Russia has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of fueling the conflict by arming the Syrian opposition.
Brahimi is proposing an interim government with full executive powers to prepare for elections in Syria, which faces a choice between “a political solution or the complete collapse of the Syrian state,” he said.
Russia on Dec. 28 said it has invited al-Khatib, head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, for talks to discuss a solution to the fighting in Syria. While he says won’t travel to Moscow, he is open to talks, Al Jazeera reported. He also demanded from Russia a “clear condemnation of the crimes committed by the Syrian regime,” the news agency reported.
Russia is prepared to meet the opposition in a “neutral venue,” Lavrov said Dec. 29, adding that it was in the Syrian opposition’s interests to hear the Russian position. According to the RIA Novosti state news service, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said a day earlier that the talks could be held in Moscow, Geneva or Cairo.
“If they feel Russia has a useful role to play in this drama, they should be ready to meet Russian representatives without any preconditions,” Lavrov said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, denied media reports that Brahimi had said that Assad could stay in power until 2014 under the peace plan.
The U.S. and Russia will hold a joint meeting next month with Brahimi to discuss the efforts to reach an agreement on Syria, Bogdanov said, according to RIA Novosti.
Russia, which has blocked UN sanctions against Syria during the conflict, has a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus and billions of dollars of arms contracts with the Middle Eastern state. After the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi last year, Syria is the last major customer for Russian weapons in the region.
The Syrian president inherited power in 2000 from his father, Hafez al-Assad, a Soviet ally who ruled for three decades and received weapons and financial support for the Arab standoff against Israel.
To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org; Scott Rose in Moscow at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at firstname.lastname@example.org