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Saturday, January 31, 2015  

Syria ready to work with Brahimi, blasts Turkey
DAMASCUS Syria said on Thursday that it is ready to work with new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and hopes he can pave the way for “national dialogue,” even as fighting raged in both the capital and second city Aleppo as sporadic clashes erupted for a fourth day in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli leaving one dead.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad accused neighbouring Turkey of providing the rebels with arms and rear bases, as Turkish and US officials held talks on hastening President Bashar Al Assad’s fall.

Muqdad said Damascus would cooperate with Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat named as UN-Arab League envoy to replace former UN chief Kofi Annan after his announcement on August 2 that he was stepping down following the failure to implement his six-point peace plan.

“We have informed the United Nations that we accept the appointment of Brahimi,” Muqdad told a Damascus news conference.

“We are looking forward to seeing... what ideas he is giving for potential solutions for the problem here,” he added.

Muqdad said he hoped Brahimi would help kick-start a process of national dialogue.

“There will be no winners in Syria, as the West is betting there will be. Syria will win, thanks to its people, its leader and its government, which will make the right choices in the midst of these difficult circumstances,” he said.

Muqdad said “foreign interference” was the leading cause of the 17-month-conflict, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday has now killed nearly 25,000 people since March last year.

“The (factors) that have fuelled this crisis are well-known — armed groups, terrorist groups supported by regional circles, including the dangerous support by Turkey of terrorist gangs, providing these with sophisticated weapons,” he said.

Turkish foreign ministry deputy under-secretary Halit Cevik and US ambassador Elisabeth Jones led the delegations made up of intelligence agents, military officials and diplomats at the Ankara talks, a foreign ministry source said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans for the forum following talks in Istanbul on August 11 as Washington signalled it was looking for new ways to put pressure on Assad after his traditional allies Beijing and Moscow blocked action at the UN Security Council.

British Prime Minster David Cameron and US President Barack Obama warned they would be forced to consider a new course of action if Syria threatened to use chemical weapons against rebel fighters.

The two leaders agreed in a phone call that the use of chemical weapons — which Syria admitted possessing in July — would be “completely unacceptable”.

“Both said that they wanted to see a credible opposition and hoped that the opposition would use their upcoming meeting in Cairo to show real unity of purpose and coherence in working towards transition,” a British statement said.

The White House said Obama also conveyed to Cameron his concern about the “increasingly dire” humanitarian situation in Syria, and called for more countries to contribute to UN humanitarian appeals.

Aleppo residents reported heavy exchanges in the heart of the city during the army’s recapture of three Christian neighbourhoods seized by the rebels at the weekend.

“We have had the worst two days of our lives,” Sonia, the wife of a wealthy businessman in the northern city which is also Syria’s commercial capital, said.

The Syrian army encircled and shelled large swathes of Damascus, in what activists and monitors termed a renewed bid to crush the insurgency in the capital “once and for all”.

They reported clashes and shelling from Al Hajar Al Aswad in the southwest to the town of Daraya on the western outskirts of Damascus, in areas where the army battled to oust rebels last month.

“There are major clashes in many areas of Damascus and the province,” said a Damascus resident and anti-regime activist who gave her name as Samara.

“Parts of Damascus look like Gaza, with the army deployed on the outside, setting up major checkpoints, but unable to get in,” she told AFP via Skype. “Fear is everywhere.”

Nationwide, at least 72 people were killed in violence on Thursday, 44 of them civilians, the Observatory said.

The Lebanese army deployed troops and tanks on the streets on Thursday morning to calm the streets and clashes appeared to die down in most areas, residents said. 

Residents say political leaders in the city agreed a ceasefire on Wednesday but that when direct clashes, sniping by both sides has continued. 

Syrian military planes crossed into Iraqi airspace on Thursday in order to carry out air strikes against the border town of Albu Kamal, which is held by rebel forces, Iraqi officials said.

“Syrian combat aircraft crossed into Iraqi airspace at about 8:00 am (0500 GMT) for about 15 minutes, and targeted Albu Kamal in Syrian territory,” a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi border guards said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The mayor of Qaim, the Iraqi town across the border from Albu Kamal, said that there had been attacks on Albu Kamal, but said the planes did not cross the border.

Agencies
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