International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned that the Syria conflict risks setting the region “ablaze,” as clashes broke out across the border with Lebanon.
Even as Brahimi appeared to be winning support within Syria for a ceasefire, rebels shot down an army helicopter Wednesday while a fierce battle for the Damascus-Aleppo highway raged around the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan.
The U.N. and Arab League envoy warned of the conflict spreading as he visited neighboring Lebanon, the latest leg of a Middle East tour aimed at ending more than 19 months of bloodshed.
“This crisis cannot remain confined within Syrian territory,” the veteran trouble-shooter told reporters.
“Either it is solved, or it gets worse... and sets (the region) ablaze.”
Clashes in Lebanon
His words came just hours before reports of clashes across the restive Syria-Lebanon border.
A Lebanese security official said armed men in Lebanon used machineguns to shoot into Syrian territory, and the Syrian army responded with rounds fired from tanks and machineguns.
“The Syrian army fired shells into Lebanon after unidentified armed men opened fire across the border near the village of Aboudiyeh” in northern Lebanon the official said, adding there were no casualties.
Ever since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in Syria, multiple exchanges of fire have taken place across the border.
Lebanon has made two official complaints against the Syrian authorities over territorial violations, while the regime of President Bashar al-Assad accuses Lebanon of allowing arms and fighters to enter into Syria illegally.
Spiraling into Turkey
The conflict has at times also spilled over into neighboring Turkey. Bilateral tensions have soared, with Ankara taking an increasingly strident line since a shell fired from inside Syria killed five Turks on October 3.
A mortar bomb fired from Syria struck Turkish territory on Wednesday but caused no casualties, Turkish NTV reported.
Turkey struck back with retaliatory fire, as it has systematically done since the first incident, Anatolia news agency said.
Brahimi said a truce for the four-day Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday from October 26 would be “a microscopic step on the road to solving the Syria crisis.”
“The Syrian people, on both sides, are burying some 100 people a day,” said Brahimi.
“Can we not ask that this toll falls for this holiday? This will not be a happy holiday for the Syrians, but we should at least strive to make it less sad.
“If the Syrian government accepts, and I understand there is hope, and if the opposition accepts,” a truce would be a step “towards a more global ceasefire.”
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who met Brahimi on Tuesday, backed the call for an Eid truce and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara supports Brahimi’s proposal.
“For us, there isn’t any sacrifice too great if the blood stops flowing in Syria even for a day, an hour,” Davutoglu told television station A Haber.
“The Arab League, Turkey and Iran have declared their support for this proposal,” he said, adding he expected those who backed the plan to make a statement on Friday.
Davutoglu said the plan was also backed by major Syrian ally Iran, adding that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had discussed it at a regional summit in Azerbaijan.
Thirty thousand people have been killed in the uprising, which began with peaceful demonstrations and now pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against an Alawite president. There are fears of broader Middle East sectarian conflict between Sunni powers sympathetic to the rebels and Shiites who back Assad.
The death toll has topped 1,000 a week for at least two months as divided world powers have condemned the bloodshed in what has become a largely stalemated conflict, but failed to agree on a political solution.
Syrian officials have questioned whether the disparate rebels, who agreed on a joint leadership on Tuesday to encourage supporters to provide them more powerful weapons, could commit to or honor any ceasefire deal.
But Brahimi said opposition figures had told him any ceasefire by Assad’s forces would be reciprocated immediately.