International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Friday met Syrian opposition figures who said he was bringing “new ideas” to peace efforts, as blasts rocked Damascus and regime air strikes targeted rebel areas in Aleppo.
Brahimi held talks with opposition groups tolerated by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which groups Arab nationalists, Kurds and socialists.
“We told Mr Brahimi... of our support for his efforts to resolve the crisis by ending the violence and killings, providing medical care and releasing political prisoners,” Hassan Abdel Azim, the bloc spokesman, told reporters.
“Mr Brahimi will listen to the opposition and officials and crystalize new ideas and a plan that could succeed,” he said after their talks in a Damascus hotel, adding that the peace initiative of his predecessor Kofi Annan would be amended.
“There will be new ideas and measures,” Abdel Azim told reporters.
He said a delegation of his group would leave on Saturday for China, a key Damascus ally, to urge Beijing to “put pressure on the regime to stop the violence, free detainees and allow peaceful protests.”
Brahimi, on his first Damascus visit since he was appointed earlier this month, said on arrival on Thursday that the conflict was deteriorating.
“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 Algerian veteran troubleshooter said, quoted by Syria's official SANA news agency.
Brahimi, who succeeded Annan following the failure of his six-point peace plan, met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem shortly after flying in and is set to see Assad on Saturday morning, a U.N. spokeswoman said.
Muallem assured Brahimi of “Syria’s full cooperation” and stressed that any initiative must be based on “the interests of the Syrian people and their freedom of choice without foreign intervention,” SANA reported.
Fighting raged in several areas on Friday.
Regime forces used fighter jets and helicopter gunships to pound the northern city of Aleppo and the province of the same name, where fierce clashes also raged around a military airport, monitors said.
Warplanes bombarded the rebel-held towns of Al-Bab and Marea near Aleppo city, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that army forces and rebels fought around Minnigh military airport.
Despite shelling by regime forces, as seen in videos posted online, residents of Marea, Aleppo city and towns across the northern province came out for anti-regime demonstrations after the weekly Muslim prayers, activists said.
Protests were also reported in the provinces of Damascus, Idlib, Daraa in the south and Hama in central Syria, the Observatory said, adding that soldiers used “explosive devices” against protesters in Hama city, wounding several people.
It said the army also stormed the Sayyida Zeinab district of southeast Damascus province, making several arrests.