Brahimi, Assad to hold fresh talks


United Nations Special Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi plans to meet Syrian president Bashar al-Assad tomorrow to discuss the 21-month uprising and international efforts to agree to a cease-fire.

Mr Brahimi will enter Syria via Lebanon today, said Al Manar TV, the Hezbollah-run television network, citing its own correspondent.

Dr Assad will not stand down or be offered asylum in Russia, according to foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

The civil war has cost more than 44,000 lives since March 2011, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. About 130 people were killed yesterday, it said.

Negotiations are the only way to halt the increasingly intensive fighting, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said last week.

Violence has "increased dramatically" in and around major cities, particularly Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, the commercial hub, the commission said in its latest update.

It found numerous incidents of torture, summary executions and attacks on cultural property.

In a bid to revive mediation efforts, Russia has invited Mr Brahimi to Moscow this month, Mr Lavrov said.

It has also asked Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the united Syrian opposition grouping, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, to hold talks with Russian representatives to discuss a peaceful solution.

Dr Assad, whose forces have suffered recent setbacks at the hands of the rebels, last month vowed that he wouldn't flee. He approved the nation's 2013 budget of 1.383 trillion pounds (€14.8 billion), Syrian state-TV said today.

Syria is "the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region," Dr Assad said in an interview with Russian state broadcaster RT in Damascus last month. "I have to live and die in Syria."