New U.N. Syria envoy puts pressure on regime

September 2, 2012

By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press

BEIRUT – The U.N.’s new envoy to Syria told President Bashar Assad’s regime on Saturday that change is both “urgent” and “necessary” and that it must meet the “legitimate” demands of the Syrian people, words that will not win the seasoned Algerian diplomat and international trouble shooter any friends in Damascus.

On his first day on the job, Lakhdar Brahimi also called on both sides to end violence in Syria, but said Assad’s government bears more responsibility than anyone else to halt the bloodshed. These remarks were seemingly intended to push the Damascus government to ease off on military operations to create a better atmosphere for his peace mission.

His comments, made in New York, came as activists said rebels captured an air defense facility in the east of the country near the border with Iraq. The battle for control of Syria’s largest city Aleppo meanwhile intensified, with government warplanes and ground forces pounding it with bombs and mortar rounds as rebel fighters fought off troops in the narrow alleys of the city’s old quarter.

“I call on parties inside Syria to halt the fighting. Undoubtedly, this call is primarily directed to the government. More than others, it is the duty of governments, under any circumstances and anywhere, not just in Syria, to ensure security and stability for their people,” Brahimi told al-Arabiya television in an interview.

“The need for change is urgent and necessary. The Syrian people must be satisfied and their legitimate demands are met,” he said.

The latest violence in Aleppo shows that government forces are still struggling to regain full control of the city from the lightly-armed rebels nearly five weeks after they stormed their way into the city in a surprise offensive.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Right activist group said Saturday’s clashes in Aleppo were concentrated in several tense neighborhoods — Masaken Hanano, Bustan al-Qasr, Sukkari and Maysar. It reported injuries and damage to buildings, but gave no specific figures. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said the government was making heavy use of warplanes in attacking rebel areas.

For over a year after the uprising against Assad’s rule began nearly 18 months ago, Aleppo and Damascus stayed relatively quiet. But in July, rebels launched a brazen attack on the two cities, capturing several neighborhoods. Government forces have regained most of the Damascus area but are being held to a stalemate in Aleppo, the nation’s commercial capital and home to 3 million people.

In the east, the Observatory reported that rebels captured an air defense post in the town of al-Boukamal in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq. The opposition has claimed advances in the area in recent days. A video released by activists showed soldiers purportedly captured by rebels at the post.

The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government to the comments made by Brahimi, who replaced Kofi Annan who quit after his six-point plan including an April 12 cease-fire failed to stop the Syrian civil war.

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