Damascus will respond to any initiative that could solve Syria’s 21-month conflict through talks, its premier said on Monday, after peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced he had a plan to end the bloodshed.
“The government is working to support the national reconciliation project and will respond to any regional or international initiative that would solve the current crisis through dialogue and peaceful means and prevent foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs,” Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi told parliament.
Halaqi emphasized the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad must be resolved “without external pressures or decrees.”
The country, he said, was “moving toward a historic moment when it will declare victory over its enemies, with the goal of positioning Syria to build a new world order that promotes national sovereignty and the concept of international law.”
Meanwhile, Brahimi warned Sunday the Syrian war was worsening “by the day” as he announced a peace plan he believed could find support from world powers, including key Syria ally Russia.
Brahimi’s comments came as Russia dispatched a third warship to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus in readiness for a possible evacuation of its nationals and as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Syrian refugees that victory over the “tyrant” President Bashar al-Assad was at hand.
Brahimi says the plan is the only one on the table, and predicts “hell” if countries do not push both sides to talk.
“The situation in Syria is bad, very, very bad, and it is getting worse, and the pace of deterioration is increasing,” Brahimi told reporters in Cairo.
“People are talking about Syria being split into a number of small states ... This is not what will happen. What will happen is Somatization: warlords.”
Somalia has been without effective central government since civil war broke out there in 1991.
“I have discussed this plan with Russia and Syria... I think this proposal could be adopted by the international community,” the U.N. and Arab League envoy said, without giving details.
“There is a proposal for a political solution based on the Geneva declaration foreseeing a ceasefire, forming a government with complete prerogatives and a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said, referring to a peace initiative that world powers agreed to in Geneva in June.
That plan was rejected by Syria’s opposition, which is adamant that Assad’s departure is a given before any national dialogue such as that under the Geneva initiative can take place.
Russia and China have so far vetoed three Security Council draft resolutions seeking to force Assad’s hand with the threat of sanctions.
Brahimi held talks in Moscow on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on his end-of-year bid to accelerate moves to halt the conflict that monitors say has killed 45,000 people. Syria’s 21-month war is the longest and deadliest of the revolts that began sweeping the Arab world two years ago.
The talks also came amid signs that Russia was beginning to distance itself from Assad’s government.
Moscow dispatched a third naval vessel to the eastern Mediterranean on Sunday in readiness for a possible evacuation of Russian nationals, many of them women who married Syrian men during the Cold War years of close relations.
The Novocherkassk landing ship joined the Azov and Nikolai Filchenkov amphibious vessels already en route for Syria since Friday and is expected to dock in Tartus in the first 10 days of the New Year, Russian news agencies reported.
The Tartus base is Russia’s only remaining naval station outside the former Soviet Union and is seen as a major strategic asset for Moscow.
On ground development
On the ground, at least 100 people were killed in violence on Sunday, 43 of them civilians, according to a preliminary toll from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among seven people killed in an air strike in the central province of Hama were a man, his wife and young daughter, the Britain-based watchdog said.
South of second city Aleppo, rebels spearheaded by fighters of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front -- blacklisted by Washington for its suspected links to Al-Qaeda -- launched a fierce assault on besieged troops in the Hamidiyeh base near the strategic crossroads town of Maaret al-Numan.
In Idlib province in the northwest, rebels downed a military helicopter near the Taftanaz airbase, the Observatory said.
Assad forces seize Homs district
Meanwhile, government troops scored a victory on Saturday after several days of fighting, seizing a Sunni district in Homs, a central town that controls the vital road linking Damascus to the coast.
Opposition activists said on Sunday that many people had been killed in the Deir Baalbeh district after it was captured, although it was not immediately possible to verify claims that a “massacre” had taken place. The opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented the summary execution of 17 men.
“They were young and old, mostly refugees who had fled to Deir Baalbeh from central parts of Homs,” it said in a statement. Footage taken by activists showed the bodies of eight men with what appeared to be bullet wounds in the face and head.
With severe restrictions by Syrian authorities on independent media in place since the revolt broke out in March last year, the footage could not be confirmed.
Tayyara, a veteran opposition campaigner from Homs in contact with the city, told Reuters residents believed the death toll was as high as 260, although the area was sealed off by government forces and allied militia.
In Homs, troops also shelled rebel positions around Krak des Chevaliers, a UNESCO-listed Crusader castle that is one of the jewels of Syria’s architectural heritage.