UN-Arab League envoy to visit Syria on 'very difficult mission'


UN-ARAB LEAGUE envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will travel to Damascus in coming days to meet officials and civil society groups.

Speaking yesterday after consultations with Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo, Mr Brahimi said: “I realise it’s a very difficult mission, but I think it is not my right to refuse . . . I am at the service of the Syrian people alone.”

Mr Brahimi also met Egyptian foreign minister Kamel Amer and president Mohamed Morsi. Mr Morsi has been chairing a gathering on Syria attended by representatives of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, called to establish a contact group tasked with resolving the crisis.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Nazih al-Naggari said Cairo wanted to “reach a consensus over an immediate halt to the killing and violence; the preservation of Syrian unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; [and] the rejection of foreign military intervention in Syria”. Egypt also seeks to “launch a political process with the participation of all segments of the Syrian population” and to support Mr Brahimi’s mission.

The death toll after twin blasts next to two hospitals and a school in a government-controlled area of Aleppo on Sunday rose to 30. The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed the attack, saying the buildings had been taken over by troops. The pro-government daily newspaper al-Watan said the army planned to mount a full-scale offensive against rebels in eastern sectors of the city.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon condemned both the government and rebels for choosing violence over dialogue. Addressing the opening of a three-week session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, he also criticised the Security Council for inaction.

He urged the council to address the issue of accountability. “We must ensure that anyone, on any side, who commits war crimes, is brought to justice.”

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an urgent inquiry into the mass killing of scores of people in the town of Darayya, south of Damascus, and condemned extrajudicial killings by rebels as shown in a video of 20 bodies of executed soldiers or members of a pro-regime militia. Last month some rebel units subscribed to a pledge to treat captives as prisoners of war and uphold human rights law. Only one Aleppo commander signed.

Ms Pillay expressed concern over the Syrian army’s shelling of urban areas, causing heavy civilian casualties and mass displacement and leading to a “devastating humanitarian crisis”. She spoke of her concern over murder, execution and torture carried out by rebels, and their use of improvised explosive devices.

In a report released in August, the UN Commission of Inquiry charged the government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels of committing crimes against humanity.

The UK-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 27,000 people had died in the conflict. The UN estimates fatalities at 18-20,000.