Envoy pursues peace talks in Syria
Syrian Christians marked a bleak and bloody Christmas Day with prayers for peace.
BEIRUT - International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi pursued mediation efforts in Damascus on Tuesday, but there was no pause in the bloodletting as Syrian Christians marked a bleak Christmas Day with prayers for peace.
"We are here in a cave that symbolises Syria right now," said a priest standing beside a nativity scene in a grotto.
"It is cold here but the door is open to all refugees," he told Syrian state TV. "Amid the hunger, cold and deprivation, we still have hope for peace and love for our country."
More than 44,000 Syrians have been killed since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 21 months ago, igniting an increasingly sectarian conflict that broadly pits a Sunni Muslim majority against Assad's Alawite minority.
Christians, many of whom have been reluctant to join what they see as an Islamist-tinged insurgency, feel threatened.
Bishop John Kawak, speaking on state TV, said the Christmas holiday was "a symbol for the rebirth of the nation". He condemned "terrorism", the government's term for the rebellion.
Brahimi met some dissidents who are tolerated by Assad but rejected by the mainstream opposition and by rebels fighting to oust him, a day after he held talks with the Syrian president.
There was no word on any progress in the UN-Arab League' envoy's drive to end violence that has intensified in recent months as Assad uses airpower and artillery against rebel gains.
Raja Naser, secretary general of the National Coordination Body, said after meeting Brahimi that the envoy planned a week of meetings in Damascus and would stay until Sunday.
"There is still a lot of concern but there is also great hope that these meetings with other Syrian officials will result in some agreements or positive developments," he said.
But most opposition groups appear frustrated with Brahimi's quest for a deal on a transitional government. He has not clarified any role for Assad, whose foes say he must simply go, arguing that too much blood has been shed for any other outcome.