International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi entered Syria on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, for a new attempt to resolve the brutal conflict that has ravaged the country for nearly two years.
Regime warplanes, meanwhile, launched air strikes across Syria, including on rebel-held towns in the northern province of Aleppo and on countryside around the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said.
Officials said the UN-Arab League envoy, seen at the Sheraton Hotel in central Damascus, travelled overland from neighbouring Lebanon for a previously unannounced visit.
“The international envoy crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border at about 2:00 pm (1200 GMT),” one official said, after reports that Brahimi had flown to Beirut International Airport.
Brahimi last visited Syria on October 19, but since then there has been fighting between government forces and rebels on the road to Damascus airport.
During his October visit, which lasted five days, he met President Bashar al-Assad and other officials to clinch a temporary ceasefire for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.
Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.
Airport officials in Beirut told AFP on condition of anonymity that the United Nations was tasked with ensuring Brahimi’s security on his journey into the embattled country.
At least 44,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March last year, the Observatory says.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi, who told reporters he was unaware of any visit by Brahimi, reiterated calls for national dialogue to solve the spiralling crisis.
“Only Syrians will participate in national dialogue,” he said. “The Syrians will decide for themselves. We tell those who do not want dialogue to engage in talks, because time is running out.” Air strikes on Sunday by regime warplanes included a raid on Sfeira in Aleppo province, said the Britain-based Observatory.
“At least 13 people were killed in an air raid on the town of Sfeira,” said the group, which relies on a network of doctors, activists and lawyers for its information.
Fighter jets also hit the town of Saqba in Damascus province, just north of the road linking the capital to the international airport, the Observatory added.