International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet Syrian officials in the capital Damascus over the next few days in the hope of a securing a brief ceasefire in the war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces.
Brahimi arrived in the city on Friday afternoon and will meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Saturday morning, the U.N. spokesman in Damascus, Khaled al-Masri, said. He did not say whether the envoy would meet Assad himself.
“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 on arrival.
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, envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, has been criss-crossing the region with the aim of convincing Assad’s main backers and his foes to support a truce during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha next week.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday called for all sides to observe the three or four-day ceasefire.
“It is important that the Syrian regime, which bombards its own people with fighter planes and helicopters, halts these attacks immediately and unconditionally,” Davutoglu 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, 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 in which more than 30,000 people have been killed over 19 months.
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.
Lebanese political scientist Hilal Khashan 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 Reuters 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 of 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 rebels groups say a decision has not been taken.
The war pitting Assad’s troops against the loosely-organised rebel army trying to end his 12 years in power has intensified in recent months.
On Thursday, 240 people were killed across the country in fighting and bombardments, from Damascus to Aleppo, the country’s commercial centre.
Activists said that on Thursday war planes had bombed apartment buildings and a mosque in the town of Maarat al-Numan, in the northern province of Idlib, which straddles the north-south highway, connecting the capital to Aleppo.
Video posted on YouTube showed men pulling the body parts of children from a mass of concrete that they said was a collapsed building in Maarat al-Numan.
Rebels captured Maarat last week and the government is maing a concerted effort to retake it and restore the link to Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that has a network of informers in Syria, said that bombings continued into Friday in the same area.
In other battlefield action, a rebel fighter was killed in clashes in Jusiya village close to the border with Lebanaon and the nearby town of Qsair was bombarded by government forces, the Observatory.
The besieged Khaldiya neighbourhood of Homs – which has been pulverised for months by Assad’s forces – was also hit by artillery barrages again on Friday, the Observatory said.
Marwan Makdessi- Reuters