WRAPUP 2-Syria envoy calls for political change to end conflict

Dominic Evans and Erika Solomon
Reuters Middle East

* 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".


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.

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