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Syrian war could engulf Middle East

A mediator appeals for temporary truce in Syria saying violence may spill across borders.

An image grab that was taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on August 27, 2012 showing a burning Syrian combat helicopter crashing. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - The international mediator on Syria said on Wednesday its civil war risks spilling across borders to engulf the Middle East and appealed for a temporary truce he said could mark a small step towards defusing 19 months of conflict.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy, has proposed that both President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebel fighters seeking his overthrow hold fire during the Islamic feast holiday of Eid al-Adha that starts next week.

Syrian authorities, who blame rebels for the failure of an April ceasefire plan, guardedly welcomed Brahimi's proposal but said any initiative must be respected by both sides. Turkey, one of Assad's harshest critics, and Iran, one of his strongest allies, both backed the plan, in rare agreement.

Thirty thousand people have been killed in the uprising, which began with peaceful demonstrations and now pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against an Alawite president. There are fears of broader Middle East sectarian conflict between Sunni powers sympathetic to the rebels and Shi'ites who back Assad.

"This crisis cannot remain within Syrian borders indefinitely. Either it will be addressed or it will increase ... and be all-consuming," Brahimi told reporters in Beirut after talks with Lebanese leaders.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 90 people had been killed in Syria by late afternoon on Wednesday, after 150 people died the day before.

The death toll has topped 1,000 a week for at least two months as divided world powers have condemned the bloodshed in what has become a largely stalemated conflict, but failed to agree on a political solution.

On Sunday, Brahimi appealed to leaders in Iran - Assad's strongest regional ally - to support a proposal for a ceasefire to mark Eid al-Adha, expected to begin at dusk on October 25.

"For us, there isn't any sacrifice too great if the blood stops flowing in Syria even for a day, an hour," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara, saying he had discussed the plan with his Iranian counterpart.

"The Arab League, Turkey and Iran have declared their support for this proposal," he said, adding he expected those who backed the plan to make a statement on Friday.

Iran's state news agency quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran backed the temporary ceasefire plan and believed free elections were the right way forward.

Syrian officials have questioned whether the disparate rebels, who agreed on a joint leadership on Tuesday to encourage supporters to provide them more powerful weapons, could commit to or honour any ceasefire deal.

But Brahimi said opposition figures had told him any ceasefire by Assad's forces would be reciprocated immediately.

"We heard from everyone we met in the opposition and everyone (else) we met that, if the government stops using violence, 'We will respond to this directly'," he said.

"We hope this will be a very small step that would save the Syrian people ... because they are burying hundreds of people every day."

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