Syria envoy presses for ceasefire

Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is in Damascus to push for a ceasefire.

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi speaks to the journalists upon his arrival in Damascus on 19 October 2012. Picture: AFP/STR

DAMASCUS - International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus on Saturday, pressing for a brief ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels seeking his overthrow.

Brahimi has called for a ceasefire during next week's Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday to stem the bloodshed in a 19-month-old conflict which activists say has killed at least 30,000 people and claimed the lives of 220 more on Friday

Syria's Foreign Ministry said the talks were "constructive and serious" and that Brahimi and Moualem discussed "objective and realistic ways of halting the violence by either side, to prepare the ground for comprehensive dialogue between Syrians".

It added that dialogue, rather than foreign intervention, was the only way to resolve the crisis.

Syria has so far given a guarded response to Brahimi's ceasefire proposal, suggesting it wants guarantees that rebels would reciprocate any move by Assad's forces.

SUPPORT

Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy for the Syria crisis, has been criss-crossing the region with the aim of convincing Assad's main backers and his foes to support the idea of a truce during the holiday, which starts at dusk on Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called for all sides to observe the three or four-day ceasefire.

Iran, one of Assad's major backers, has also supported the call but added that the main problem in Syria was foreign interference.

The United States, which has been a vocal critic of Assad but has little apparent influence on the ground, threw its weight behind the ceasefire call on Friday.

"We urge the Syrian government to stop all military operations and call on opposition forces to follow suit," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The United States has repeatedly said it believes Assad must step down to allow for a political transition in Syria, and blamed Russia and China for blocking moves at the U.N. Security Council aimed at increasing pressure on his government.

Russia and China, joined by Iran, say they are opposed to foreign intervention in Syria and accuse Western powers of working with Arab allies in the Gulf to support Syria's armed opposition in a conflict that appears to be heading toward a sectarian proxy war.