Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, has met with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus, a day after an air strike killed dozens of civilians in Hama province.
Brahimi said following Monday’s meeting in the capital that he and Assad had exchanged views on the crisis and discussed possible steps forward, the details of which he did not disclose.
“Assad expressed his views on the situation and I told him about my meetings with leaders in the region and outside,” said the veteran Algerian diplomat, who took over his present task from former UN chief Kofi Annan.
Assad described his meeting with Brahimi as “friendly and constructive”, according to state television.
“The government is committed to ensure the success of all efforts aimed at protecting the sovereignty and independence of the country,” Assad said.
State news agency SANA said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, his deputy Faisal Muqdad and presidential advisor Buthaina Shaaban all attended Assad’s meetings with Brahimi.
Brahimi arrived in Syria on Sunday from neighbouring Lebanon. He had last visited the country on October 19.
Bakery air strike
Meanwhile, burials were held on Monday in a town in Hama province for those killed in an air strike on a bakery a day earlier.
At least 90 people have been reported killed in the attack on Halfaya, a town which was seized by rebels few days ago as part of a campaign to push into new territories in the 21-month-old revolt against Assad.
Samer al-Hamawi, an activist in the town, said that more than 1,000 people had been queueing at the bakery before the strike hit near them. Shortages of fuel and flour have made bread production erratic across the country, and people often wait for hours to buy loaves.
Syrian state news agency, however, disputed that account, saying instead that a “terrorist” group had carried out the attack.
SANA, citing residents of the town, said: “An armed terrorist group attacked the town of Halfaya committing crimes against the population, killing many women and children.”
The report added the Syrian army intervened during the assault and “killed and wounded many terrorists”, a term Syrian officials and state media use to refer to rebels fighting to oust the Assad government.
At least 700 people, most of them women and children, fled into into Turkey following the bakery attack, Turkish officials said.
On Monday, it was reported that al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda inspired group, along with other opposition fighters, overran large parts of the Hama village of Maan, which is populated by Alawites, the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad belongs.
Rebels last week launched an all-out assault on army positions across Hama, home to a patchwork of religious communities.
Elsewhere, activists the province of Homs on Monday said shelling on a bakery in the town of Talbiseh left 15 people killed, mostly children.
US-based Human Rights Watch condemned army air strikes on bakeries earlier this year, arguing that in some incidents the Syrian military was not using enough precision to target rebel sites, and in other instances it may have intentionally hit civilians.
Also in Homs, activists accused Assad’s regime of unleashing killer gas bombs in the rebel-held neighbourhoods of the city.
Activists said seven people died in Homs on Sunday night after inhaling “odorless gas and white smoke” emanating from bombs deployed by regime forces in clashes with rebels.