* Envoy seeks transitional government with "full powers"
* Russia's Lavrov says force won't resolve conflict
* Opposition wary of Brahimi proposal
* Rebels attack military base on Damascus-Aleppo highway
BEIRUT, Dec 27 (Reuters) - The international envoy seeking a
negotiated solution to Syria's 21-month-old conflict said on
Thursday political change was needed to end the violence which
has killed 44,000 people.
Speaking in Damascus at the end of a five-day trip during
which he met President Bashar al-Assad, Lakhdar Brahimi called
for a transitional government to rule until elections and said
only substantial change would meet demands of ordinary Syrians.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added to the envoy's
call for a peaceful solution when he told a senior Syrian
diplomat that only a "broad inter-Syria dialogue and political
process" could end the crisis.
Brahimi's push for a transitional government suggested he
was trying to build on an international agreement in Geneva six
months ago which said a provisional body - which might include
members of Assad's government as well as the opposition - should
lead the country into a new election.
But the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have seized the
military initiative since the Geneva meeting in June and the
political opposition has ruled out any transitional government
in which Assad, from Syria's Alawite minority, plays a role.
Rebel fighters resumed attacks on Thursday against the
military base of Wadi Deif, which lies next to Syria's main
north-south highway linking Aleppo with Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based
opposition group which monitors the violence, said rebels also
clashed with Assad's forces inside the Minakh air base in Aleppo
province after several days of fighting outside its perimeter,
although the army still controlled the base itself.
Around the capital, Assad has used artillery and air strikes
for weeks to try to dislodge rebels from suburbs which ring the
east and south of the city.
"Certainly it was clear in Geneva, and it's even clearer now
that the change which is needed is not cosmetic or superficial,"
Brahimi told a news conference in Damascus before leaving Syria.
"I believe the Syrian people need, want and aspire to
genuine change and everyone knows what this means," he said.
"A government must be created ... with all the powers of the
state," Brahimi added. He said it should hold power for a
transitional period until elections - either for a new president
or a new parliament - are held.
"This transitional process must not lead to the ... collapse
of state institutions. All Syrians, and those who support them,
must cooperate to preserve those institutions and strengthen
them," he said.
Radwan Ziadeh of the opposition Syrian National Council
dismissed Brahimi's proposal as "unrealistic and fanciful" and
said a transitional government could not be built on the same
"security and intelligence structure as the existing regime".
TOO SOON FOR COMPLETE PLAN
Russia's Lavrov met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal
Makdad in Moscow on Thursday. Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov
as saying the chances of forging a solution based on the Geneva
agreement were decreasing, but it was necessary to keep seeking
a peaceful solution because the alternative is "bloody chaos".
"The longer it continues, the broader its scale and the
worse (it will be) for everyone," it quoted Lavrov as saying.
Syrian and Lebanese sources said Makdad had been sent to
Moscow to discuss details of a peace plan proposed by Brahimi.
Brahimi is due in Moscow on Saturday and said he also
expected to have a third joint meeting with U.S. and Russian
officials soon following two rounds of talks earlier this month.
But he denied the existence of a U.S.-Russian plan to end the
crisis and said it was too soon to present a "complete plan".
"What is preferred is that we don't present such a plan
until we feel that all sides have agreed to it. That way,
implementing it is easy. If that doesn't happen, the other
solution could be to go to the (United Nations) Security Council
to issue a binding resolution for everyone," he said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman also denied any joint
initiative between Moscow and Washington.
World powers remain divided over what has become an
increasingly sectarian struggle, with Sunni Muslim states such
as Turkey and the Gulf Arab countries supporting the rebels
while Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah have backed Assad, whose
Alawite community has its roots in Shi'ite Islam.
Syria's struggle "has taken a vicious form of sectarian
confrontation", Brahimi said. "Syrian officials foremost, as
well as the international community, must not let Syria slide
down this very dangerous path which threatens the future of
Deep differences between Western powers opposed to Assad -
led by the United States - and Russia and China which have
supported his government, have left the U.N. Security Council
paralysed and largely sidelined throughout the conflict.
The political stalemate has helped transform a once-peaceful
uprising into a civil war in which rebels have grown in military
strength and taken control of swathes of territory in the north,
leaving Assad increasingly reliant on air power to curb them.
Activists in the central province of Hama, where rebels
launched an offensive last week to extend their control
southwards towards the capital, reported on Thursday that rebels
shot down a MiG fighter near the town of Morek.
The Syrian Observatory said air force fighters launched
three raids on rebel forces around Wadi Deif. The British-based
group also reported fierce clashes in the area.
The violence has been accompanied by an escalation in
apparently sectarian attacks between the Sunni Muslim majority
and minorities such as Assad's Alawite sect, which has largely
supported the president.
Activists in Hama uploaded a video of what appeared to be
Assad soldiers and shabbiha militia members stabbing the body of
a dead man and setting it on fire. The man looked as if he had
been beaten to death.
"This is a terrorist, a brother of a whore, one of those
trying to destroy the country," one of the men shouted. Two men
in camouflage uniforms and army helmets stood by watching. Samer
al-Hamawi, an activist from Hama, said rebels in his area found
the video on the phone of a soldier they captured this week.
The video emerged a day after Islamist rebel units released
footage showing the bodies of dozens of Assad's fighters along a
highway near an Alawite town in Hama.