News Column

Syria Weighs UN Envoy's Proposal

Dec. 26, 2012

Kareem Fahim

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria dispatched a senior diplomat to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss proposals made by the U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to end the conflict convulsing his country, Syrian and Lebanese sources said.

Mr. Brahimi, who met with Mr. Assad on Monday as part of a series of planned talks with Syrian officials and dissidents in Damascus this week, is trying to arrange a peaceful transfer of power but has disclosed little about how this might be achieved.

Faisal Makdad, the deputy foreign minister, flew to Moscow to discuss the details of the talks with Mr. Brahimi, said a Syrian security source, who would not say if an agreement was in the works.

However, a Lebanese official close to Damascus said Mr. Makdad had been sent to seek Russian advice on a possible agreement.

He said Syrian officials were optimistic after talks with Mr. Brahimi, who met with Foreign Minister Walid Moualem on Tuesday, a day after his session with Mr. Assad, but who has not outlined his ideas in public.

"There is a new mood now, and something good is happening," the official said, asking not to be identified. He gave no details.

Meanwhile, a Syrian security source confirmed that the general who has headed Syria's military police had defected and joined the uprising against Mr. Assad's regime. The defection is one of the most prominent during the country's 21-month uprising.

The official, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, appeared in a video on the pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiya late Tuesday saying he was joining "the people's revolution."

General Shallal's defection comes as military pressure is building on the regime, with government bases falling to rebel assault near Damascus and elsewhere across the country. On Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said government shelling in the northeastern province of Raqqa had killed at least 20 people, including women and children.

Dozens of generals have defected since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. In July, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass was the first member of Mr. Assad's inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition.

General Shallal is one of the most senior generals to defect, and he held a top post at the time that he left. But the security source who confirmed his defection said he was near retirement and had defected only to "play hero."

Also Wednesday, the Syrian interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim al- Sha'ar, left Lebanon for Damascus after being treated in Beirut for wounds sustained in a rebel bomb attack this month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of contacts in Syria to monitor the conflict, said a rebel commander was among several killed in fighting Wednesday, which it said was among the heaviest in months.

As violence has intensified in recent weeks, with Mr. Assad using his air power and artillery to contain rebel advances, daily death tolls have climbed. At least 190 people were killed across the country on Tuesday alone, the Observatory said.

Russia, which has given Mr. Assad diplomatic and military aid in the uprising, has said it is not protecting him but has fiercely criticized any foreign backing for rebels and, with China, has blocked any U.N. Security Council action on Syria.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said that Syria's civil war had reached a stalemate and that international efforts to persuade Mr. Assad to quit would fail.

(Reuters, AP)

Source: (C) 2012 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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