International envoy’s mission to establish cessation of violence gains regional support.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab envoy, has met with Syrian officials in the capital Damascus, pressing for a brief ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels seeking his overthrow.
Brahimi arrived in the city on Friday and met with Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, on Saturday morning.
There were no immediate details on the talks but Syria has so far given a guarded response to Brahimi’s proposal,
suggesting it wants guarantees that rebels would reciprocate any move by Assad’s forces.
“We will talk about the ceasefire and the Syrian issue in general. It is important to decrease the violence. We will talk with the government and political parties and civil society about the Syrian issue,” Brahimi told reporters when he arrived.
The violence showed no sign of abating, however, with opposition activists reporting heavy street clashes in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and intensified army bombing of towns along the strategic north-south highway.
Brahimi has called for a ceasefire during next week’s Eid al-Adha holiday to stem the bloodshed in a 19-month-old
conflict which activists say has killed at least 30,000 people and claimed the lives of 220 more on Friday.
“No one, I suspect, will be paying a great deal of attention to [the plan by] Lakhdar Brahimi,” said Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Antakya, Turkey.
“Kofi Annan’s mission – with vastly more international backing and less cynicism – led to a pause that lasted about five hours before normal business was resumed,” our correspondent said.
“Neither side saw it as something achievable or desirable. The rebels are making significant gains, and the Assad regime has lost territory. So, there’s a great deal more for both sides to keep fighting for.”
Implementing Eid ceasefire
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, on Friday called for all sides to observe the three or four days of ceasefire.
“It is important that the Syrian regime, which bombards its own people with fighter planes and helicopters, halts these attacks immediately and unconditionally,” he said in Ankara.
Iran also backed the ceasefire call but added that the main problem in Syria was foreign interference, a reference to support for the rebels by Gulf Arab states, the United Sates and other Western powers, and Turkey.
“We consider the establishment of an immediate ceasefire an important step in helping the Syrian people,” said Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian, as quoted by Mehr news agency.
“Syria has taken important steps against terrorism and foreign interference and is pursuing political reforms and the security of the country.”
Despite positive words from the different backers of the warring factions, the task of securing even a temporary ceasefire appears daunting in an intensifying conflict.
A previous ceasefire in April collapsed after just a few days, with each side blaming the other. Mediator Kofi Annan resigned his post in frustration a few months later. Next week’s truce would be self-imposed, with no international observers.
Hilal Khashan, a Lebanese political scientist, said that Turkey and Iran were probably promoting the ceasefire because “they need to seem like they are doing something”.
“I don’t think it will work. Neither side trusts the other, and the opposition fears the regime will use the ceasefire to bolster its positions in Aleppo and Idlib,” he told the Reuters news agency in Beirut.
A rebel group calling itself the Joint Command for Military and Revolution Councils in Syria said in a video statement that it was willing to respect the ceasefire on condition that the Assad government released detainees, particularly women, and lifted the siege on the central city of Homs.
It also called for a halt in air strikes and for access to humanitarian aid – something Assad has in practice denied to several international organisations. It also said the army must not take advantage of the truce to fortify its positions.
Other rebel groups say a decision has not been taken.