Lakhdar Brahimi said on his first official visit to Damascus as U.N. and Arab League envoy on Thursday that the conflict in Syria “is getting worse,” the official SANA news agency reported.
“We came to Syria to hold meetings with our Syrian brothers because there is a big crisis, and I think it is getting worse,” the agency quoted Brahimi as saying when he arrived at Damascus airport.
Brahimi will have his first meeting with President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, one day after he met Syrian opposition officials in Cairo, U.N. officials and diplomats said, as death toll rises across Syria and rebels vowed to retake a major barracks in Aleppo.
As many as 172 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, activists told Al Arabiya.
Amid the spiraling conflict in Syria, Brahimi again highlighted to Arab League envoys that he knew he faced “an extremely difficult task,” a U.N. spokeswoman said.
Brahimi met Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, briefed envoys to the Arab League and met Syrian opposition officials, U.N. spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci told reporters in New York, according to AFP.
She did not name which opposition figures Brahimi had met.
Sheikh Hamad heads an Arab League crisis committee on Syria while his country is considered a key outside player in the conflict. The Syrian government has accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of arming opposition rebels.
Brahimi told envoys of the Cairo-based Arab League that “he was approaching the crisis in Syria with his eyes open and the full knowledge that it was an extremely difficult task.”
Brahimi, who took over this month as international peace envoy from Kofi Annan, is to travel to Damascus on Thursday and meet Assad the next day, Iraq's envoy to the League, Qais al-Azzawi, said after the talks.
The envoy is also to meet Syrian opposition and civil society figures, his spokesman has said.
Azawi said some Arab countries had sought to put a deadline on Brahimi’s mission but Iraq was among the states which rejected the idea.
On the ground, a Syrian rebel commander vowed on Wednesday to retake a major barracks in the northern city of Aleppo after it was recaptured by the army the previous day.
“We lost the Hanano barracks, and I regret that. But I assure you we will retake it within a week,” Abu Mohammed, who did not give his real name, told AFP in a house in the center of Aleppo.
The Hanano base, perched on a hill not far from the citadel that dominates the city and is controlled by government troops, “is too big and impossible for us to defend,” the Free Syrian Army commander said.
“As soon as we entered (the barracks), Assad’s army opened fire on us with everything they have got -- artillery, helicopters, planes. We would have had to defend it with dozens of men, and would have failed. They'd have died for nothing.”
Abu Mohammed said last Thursday’s assault on the base had enabled the rebels to free “at least 350 prisoners, civilians kept in underground cells,” and to capture weapons.
“There were even more weapons in the armories, but we couldn’t carry everything,” he said. “We found anti-tank rocket launchers but no rockets for them.”
The rebels executed 20 soldiers they captured when they entered the base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“This was a big mistake, a crime, and those who did it will be held accountable,” Abu Mohammed said.
The former Syrian army commander said he deserted three years ago and fled to Belgium before returning to fight with the rebels.
During the hour that AFP journalists spent in Abu Mohammed’s headquarters, shells frequently exploded around the city and machine gun fire was heard.