Last Updated: Mon Sep 10, 2012 13:28 pm (KSA) 10:28 am (GMT)

More deaths reported as Brahimi begins Syria mission with Egypt, League talks

A Syrian refugee holds her child as she sits in her tent at al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee holds her child as she sits in her tent at al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. (Reuters)

U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Monday during a visit to Cairo that he faces a “very difficult mission” in conflict-stricken Syria, as he prepared to visit Damascus as death toll across Syria went up.

“I realize it’s a very difficult mission, but I think it is not my right to refuse to give whatever assistance I can to the Syrian people,” Brahimi told reporters after talks with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi.

“I am at the service of the Syrian people alone,” Brahimi said.

“I will go to Damascus in a few days and I will meet officials and civil society members in the capital and outside,” he said.

Asked if he would meet President Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi said: “I hope to but I don’t know,” according to AFP.

Brahimi, replacing former U.N. chief Kofi Annan who quit over divisions in the U.N. Security Council on the deadly violence that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, arrived in Cairo late on Sunday.

He is due to meet with President Mohammed Mursi and Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr later on Monday.

Syrian warplanes Monday blitzed a string of opposition-held districts in Aleppo, a watchdog said, a day after rebels killed dozens including soldiers in an attack on state buildings in the northern city.

At least five people died and an unknown number were hurt when the warplanes staged waves of bombing raids from early morning on the Marjeh, Sakhur, Hanano, Tariq al-Bab and Sheikh Khodr neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Many buildings were destroyed and the rebels used anti-aircraft guns” against the warplanes, said Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground for its information.

Abdul Rahman gave a toll of at least 27 people killed in Sunday’s attack by rebels on government buildings in a western district of Aleppo, near the municipal stadium.

“It appears that many soldiers were among the dead, and that there were a number of people were wounded, some of the seriously,” he added.

The official SANA news agency, which blamed the attack on “terrorists,” gave the same death toll and said 64 people were wounded.

More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The United Nations puts the death toll at 20,000.

As many as 137 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Sunday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said. Regime forces have committed a new massacre in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib that left 8 people killed, the Syrian General revolution Commission said. Meanwhile, another massacre was reported by the Syrian regime forces against seven children who were playing at the Jabal Ain Maneen in Damascus suburbs, activists said.

Brahimi, a veteran troubleshooter, has already said he was “scared” of the mission awaiting him in Syria, and has described the bloodshed there as “staggering” and the destruction as “catastrophic.”

Brahimi’s spokesman Ahmed Fawzi told reporters at Cairo airport the date of Brahimi’s visit to Syria will be fixed once the final details of his program of meetings are set.

The United States and Russia are split on how to tackle the conflict and as fighting rages, with dozens of people dying in Syria every day.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that a new Security Council resolution on Syria would be pointless if it had “no teeth,” because President Bashar al-Assad would ignore it.

Speaking in Russia, Clinton said she was willing to work with Moscow on a new resolution but warned that Washington would step up support to end Assad’s regime if the measure did not carry consequences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting Clinton that he hoped to seek Security Council approval for a peace plan agreed in June in Geneva that called for a ceasefire and political transition.

Clinton said if differences with Moscow persist, “then we will work with like-minded states to support a Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls.”

Washington has said it is providing non-lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria, whose regime has been a Moscow ally since the Cold War.

As part of his diplomatic push, Brahimi may try to enlist Iran. In Tehran the Mehr news agency quoted an official as saying Brahimi was contemplating visiting the Islamic republic – Syria’s diehard ally -- after Damascus.

Annan had also visited Tehran to try to get it involved in finding an end to the bloodshed, but Washington has accused Iran of playing a “nefarious” role in Syria.

Arab leaders, meanwhile, have denounced the Syrian regime for carrying out “crimes against humanity.”

Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday condemned “the pursuit of violence, killings and ugly crimes carried out by the Syrian authorities and their ‘shabbiha’ militias against Syrian civilians.”

Even as the latest diplomatic push to resolve the crisis unfolds, the fighting in Syria continues unabated, with scores of people reported killed.

The conflict has also triggered a massive exodus, with current Syrian refugee numbers in neighboring countries now 235,000, according to official U.N. figures.

The uprising has polarized global powers, preventing effective international intervention, and is turning increasingly sectarian with the risk of spillover into adjacent Arab states with similar communal divisions.

Assad, whose family has rule Syria for 42 years, has repeatedly said the revolt is the handiwork of Islamist “terrorists” and not a popular movement for democratic change.

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