Last Updated: Sat Sep 15, 2012 15:07 pm (KSA) 12:07 pm (GMT)

Assad calls for dialogue among Syrians after peace envoy meet

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets with United Nations (U.N. Arab League peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus. (Reuters)
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets with United Nations (U.N. Arab League peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus. (Reuters)

President Bashar al-Assad called for dialogue between Syrians during a meeting on Saturday with international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, state television reported.

“The real problem in Syria is that of combining politics with the work being done on the ground,” said Assad. “The political work continues, in particular by calling for dialogue between Syrians based on the aspirations of all Syrians.

“The success of political action is dependent on putting pressure on the countries that finance and train the terrorists, and which bring weapons into Syria, until they stop doing so.”

Assad said his government would “cooperate with all sincere efforts to solve the crisis, so long as the efforts are neutral and independent.”

Also present at his meeting with Brahimi were Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban.

Brahimi warned after meeting Assad that the worsening conflict in Syria poses a threat to the region and the world at large.

“The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world,” said the newly-appointed Brahimi, who took over earlier this month from former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

“We will make a great effort to make progress, and do our best ... to help the Syrian people,” he said.

“The Syrian government has promised to help the (envoy’s) office in Damascus to do its work well,” said Brahimi, referring to the office headed by diplomat Mokhtar Lamani.

“We will be in touch with countries that have interests and influence in the Syrian issue,” he added.

They include Western nations -- chiefly the United States -- and Gulf countries which have long called for the fall of Assad, and regime supporters Russia and China.

Brahimi had met Syrian opposition figures who said he was bringing “new ideas” to the peace effort, as blasts rocked Damascus and regime air strikes targeted rebel areas in Aleppo.

Brahimi held talks with opposition groups 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 is on his first Damascus visit since his appointment to replace Annan who quit the post after a hard-sought peace deal he brokered became a dead letter.

Brahimi also met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem Friday.

Muallem assured him 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 rages

Fighting raged in several areas on Friday and through to the early hours on Saturday.

Heavy shelling was reported in the in the town of al-Rostan in Homs, while field areas within the suburbs of Damascus were under attack early on Saturday, according to Al Arabiya TV citing activists.

Overnight air strikes killed at least 12 civilians and wounded around 60 in al-Bab in northern Syria, doctors in the rebel-held town told AFP news agency on Saturday.

Two fighter jets carried out a series of raids on the town between 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) Friday and 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) Saturday, hitting homes and empty school buildings, a doctor at the town's hospital said, asking not to be identified.

Shortly before midday on Saturday, an AFP correspondent saw a fighter jet circle over the town of some 70,000 people 35 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo, sending panicked residents scurrying off the streets.

It did not open fire.

In the town's Birar neighbourhood, several streets were cordoned off because of the risk of falling masonry from bombed out buildings.

In one of the homes hit, four people lost their lives, three of them women, the father of one of those killed told AFP.

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.

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