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Syria envoy calls for political change

International envoy seeks political change to end 21-month-old conflict in Syria.

Syrian rebels celebrate next to the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet which was shot down at Daret Ezza, on the border between the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, on November 28, 2012. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - 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".