UN envoy calls for return to Geneva plan including interim government in Syria


UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday called for revival of a six-month-old peace plan involving the formation of a transitional government with full powers until parliamentary elections are held.

Mr Brahimi put forward his proposal in Damascus after a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and five days of dis- cussions with other senior figures and domestic opposition groups.

“The Syrian people seek genuine change,” he stated, but he warned that the transitional period “must not lead to the collapse of the state or the state’s institutions”.

While Mr Brahimi did not say whether regime members could be included in a transitional body, his demand for change could indicate they would not.

He said the Geneva plan, which was adopted and quickly abandoned by western powers supporting the opposition, could be amended but did not indicate what alterations could be made.

“We prefer . . . a project whose facilitation the parties have agreed upon, and if they do not, the last solution is going to the [UN] Security Council which will make a binding resolution,” Mr Brahimi said.

He is expected to have a third meeting with Russian and US officials following two rounds of joint talks this month.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevic dismissed rumours of a Russian-US peace plan which would permit President Assad to complete his current term, ending in 2014. “We continue to believe there is no alterna- tive to [the Geneva] document,” he said.

Mr Lukashevic blamed the west for prolonging the crisis by demanding that Mr Assad be ousted before the establishment of a transitional body.

Dismissed proposal

In response, French foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani reiterated the western stance by stating, “Bashar al- Assad, who is still ferociously repressing his people and bears responsibility for 45,000 victims of this conflict, cannot be part of the transition.”

His words were echoed by Radwan Ziadeh, of the expatriate opposition Syrian National Council, which dismissed the revival of the Geneva proposal as “unrealistic and fanciful” and said a transitional government could not emerge from the same “security and intelligence structure as the existing regime”.

Nevertheless, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, to prepare for tomorrow’s visit to Moscow by Mr Brahimi, whose effort to halt violence before any dialogue has been ignored by both regime and rebels.

Over the past six months, rebel fighters have seized the military initiative, attacking regime bastions Damascus and Aleppo and taking control of large swathes of the countryside as well as several military bases and the frontier with Turkey.

The escalation of fighting has led to sectarian attacks involving Sunni rebels and pro-government Alawite militias as well as bombing and shelling of civilians by both sides.

Dozens dead

A video circulated by activists showed what were said to be army troops and aligned militiamen stabbing and setting fire to a corpse. “This is a terrorist, a brother of a whore, one of those trying to destroy the country,” one of the men shouted.

On Wednesday, members of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra released a video showing dozens of bodies of government soldiers lying alongside a highway near a besieged Alawite town in Hama province.

The unseen speaker in the video dated the scene to December 21st and said 50 men were ambushed in a convoy and killed.

Piles of bodies lined the road with many more scattered further away. One of the men appeared to have been beaten to death, with parts of his face smashed in and some of the skull protruding.

“Let this be a lesson,” the cameraman says. “These are Assad’s apostate dogs on the road . . . this is the fate of all swine.”

Concerned over the increasing participation of hardline jihadi fighters in the Syrian conflict, Washington has designated the Jabhat al-Nusra a “terrorist organisation”.

Move condemned

This move was condemned by the rebel Free Syrian Army, which has relied on veteran jihadis to lead raw recruits into battle and undertake missions against Syrian army bases.

Meanwhile, domestic opposition Building the Syrian State has issued an urgent appeal to rebels to cease operations against the northeastern city of Raqqa, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have found sanctuary.

The group warned that rebel advances would lead to bombing by regime forces which would “destroy much of Raqqa” and the population would “pay the price” of rebel action. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)