CAIRO/BEIRUT - The UN peace envoy for Syria said on Wednesday
that Bashar Assad could have no place in a transitional government to end
civil war, the closest he has come to calling directly for the embattled
president to quit.
A peace plan agreed by major powers in Geneva last
year envisages an interim administration. "Surely he would not be a member of
that government," UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told Reuters in an interview in
He reiterated that the Geneva plan remained "the base for a
solution in Syria", ravaged by a war the United Nations says has already killed
"There is no military solution," he said. "The solution
shouldn't wait until 2014. It should be in 2013." He described a speech by Assad
this week as "uncompromising", saying he had "narrowed his initiative by
excluding some parties" from his own peace proposals.
offered no concessions and included a vow never to talk to foes he branded
terrorists and Western puppets.
Brahimi urged all parties to compromise
for the sake of the victims of the conflict. "I say to the Syrians - be they
fighters, or the president or officials - that any concession is not a loss in
order that this situation ends." Brahimi said he would travel to Geneva on
Thursday for a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, whose governments back different
sides in the war.
He said the opposition and Assad had to accept the
Geneva plan and implement it. "Of course this requires ceasing fire," he
40 years too long.
"In Syria, in particular, I think that what
people are saying is that a family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too
long," Brahimi told Britain's BBC in an earlier interview.
were welcomed by the opposition, which has long been angered by the U.N.
mediator's refusal to take a firm position on excluding a future role for
"The statement of Lakhdar Brahimi has been long awaited," the
opposition National Coalition's representative to Britain, Walid Saffour, told
"He hasn't criticized Bashar al-Assad before, but now, after he
despaired of Assad after his Sunday speech, he had no other alternative than to
say to the world that this rule is a family rule, and more than 40 years is
A US spokeswoman said of Brahimi's remarks: "We obviously weren't
surprised, based on what we've been hearing from him, that he was willing to say
that in public." Assad has ruled since 2000, taking over from his father Hafez,
who seized power in a 1970 coup.
Brahimi told the BBC that Assad had told
him he wanted to run for re-election in 2014. Brahimi said the crisis needed to
be resolved by the end of 2013 "or there will be no Syria".
days of silence following Assad's speech, Moscow finally offered its support on
Wednesday. Assad's proposals "affirmed the readiness for the launch of an
inter-Syrian dialogue and for reforming the country on the basis of Syrian
sovereignty", the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Western countries have
been searching for signs of a weakening of Moscow's support for Assad, hoping
this could finally prise him from power in the same way that Russian withdrawal
of backing for Slobodan Milosevic heralded the Serbian leader's downfall in
Syria's state news agency SANA said Assad's new peace plan had been
sent to the United Nations and was in line with Brahimi's plan.
did not immediately comment on Brahimi's remarks.
supporters were wary of Brahimi's apparent change of tone. Col. Abdeljabbar
Oqeidi, a rebel leader in northern Syria, said he had not heard Brahimi's full
remarks but it sounded as if his words were positive.
that doesn't require the entire regime to go and be put on trial will not be
enough. We won't negotiate with that criminal or his gangs," he said by
Rebel fighter Abu Faisal, reached on Skype with the sound of
exploding rockets in the background, laughed after hearing that Brahimi believed
Syrians had had enough of the ruling family.
"This is a new discovery
after two years? Maybe we should worship him now."
On the ground in
Syria there was no let-up in fighting, despite four straight days of relentless
rain, wind, hail and snowfall that weather officials in neighboring Lebanon and
Israel have called the worst winter storm for 20 years.
Rebels made a new
push to seize a government air base in Taftanaz in the north of the country,
which they failed to take in a three-day offensive last week.
months of advances, the rebels now control swathes of the north and east of the
country, as well as a crescent of suburbs on the outskirts of
The government still has firm control of most of the densely
populated southwest, the main north-south highway, the Mediterranean coast and
military bases around the country from which its planes and helicopters can
attack with impunity.
The extreme weather has raised concern for the
600,000 refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, for displaced people
within Syria and for civilians, especially in rebel-held areas where fuel and
food are growing scarce.
Opposition activists say dozens of people have
died because of the storm in Syria. The weather claimed at least 17 lives in
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian
Civilians were sheltering in caves and under plastic sheets
among abandoned Byzantine ruins known as the Dead Cities, said Fadi Yasin, an
activist in northwest Idlib province.
Residents in mainly rebel-held
Aleppo were burning furniture and doors to stay warm, said Michal Przedalicki,
an aid worker from the Czech charity People in Need working in northern
"Unfortunately, I think it is quite likely that people will die
from the severe weather conditions. Already people have not been eating enough
for several months, and that exposes their bodies to more disease and
infection." In Damascus, rebels freed 48 Iranian captives they had been holding
since August in return for the government releasing more than 2,000 prisoners.
The Iranians arrived at a hotel in central Damascus.