UN Syria envoy meets Assad
Syria special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi discussed solving the country's conflict with President Bashar al-Assad today, but the opposition expressed deepening frustration with the mission following what it called the latest massacre of civilians.
Underlining how rebels are taking the battle close to Assad's doorstep, the UN and Arab League envoy had to drive to Damascus from Lebanon on the eve of the meeting as fighting around the international airport made it impossible to fly in.
Mr Brahimi said his talks with Assad had dealt with possible solutions to a crisis that has killed more than 44,000 people, according to activists.
"I told him what I was seeing abroad and about the meetings I had with different officials in the region and abroad," Mr Brahimi told reporters. "The situation in Syria still is a reason for worry. We hope that all the sides work toward the solution, as the Syrian people want."
Today’s meeting was Brahimi's third with Assad and violence has greatly escalated since the series began.
Syria's opposition vented its anger at what it called a silence over the unabated killing of civilians by Assad's forces.
Yesteraday dozens of people were killed in the central town of Halfaya and many more wounded. Activists blamed an air strike that hit a bakery where a crowd was queuing in Halfaya, which was seized by rebels last week.
"Silence over the massacres committed against the Syrian people is blackmail and a means to pressure the people, their revolution, and their leaders," said Moaz Alkhatib, who heads the opposition National Coalition.
"The Halfaya massacre is not just a massacre but a message from both those who are part of the regime and those who support it, and in short it is: Either you die or you accept the enslavement that we will force upon you," he wrote on his Facebook page.
However, Mr Alkhatib did not accuse anybody directly for remaining silent over what would be one of the deadliest air strikes of the civil war.
Activists also said rebels in central Hama province shot down a government fighter jet today in clashes outside a village loyal to Assad.
Rebels have captured several military sites around the country. Damascus is now being dragged into the unrest, with fighting in its southern districts and the suburbs on its eastern outskirts.
The army has hit back at rebel-held areas near Damascus with daily air raids and artillery strikes that have sent thousands fleeing to the city centre and over the border to Lebanon.
Mr Brahimi is the successor of envoy Kofi Annan, who resigned in August after a failed ceasefire attempt and blamed both rising militarisation in Syria and diplomatic deadlock abroad.
Little seems to have changed since then. Brahimi's own ceasefire efforts in October failed after four days.
Western powers such as the United States, which back the opposition, continue to call for Mr Assad's removal. Syria's main arms supplier Russia has given mixed signals. Most recently the foreign minister of Russia, which along with China has blocked UN . resolutions against Assad, said the president "is not going anywhere".
Mr Brahimi's plan for an end to the Syrian crisis centres on a transitional government, but has left vague Assad's role. The opposition rejects anything but Mr Assad's overthrow and says the government crackdown has been too fierce to accept dialogue.