International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Saturday in a bid to revive peace efforts in the country.
Syrian state television reported that the international envoy met with Assad on Saturday, hoping to reignite stalled peace efforts in an attempt to end the 18-month-old conflict.
Brahimi told reporters after meeting with Assad that the escalating conflict in Syria poses a threat to the region and the world at large, adding that the crisis is deepening and the gap between political parties is increasing.
"The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world. We will make a great effort to make progress, and do our best ... to help the Syrian people," he said.
"The Syrian government has promised to help the [envoy's] office in Damascus to do its work well," Brahimi added, referring to office head Mokhtar Lamani.
"We will be in touch with countries that have interests and influence in the Syrian issue," referring to nations including the United States and Gulf states that have called for the fall of Assad, as well as Syrian allies Russia and China.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the conflict has killed more than 27,000 people.The United Nations puts the figure at 20,000.
On Friday, Brahimi, on his first trip to Damascus since he took over from Koffi Annan as UN-Arab League special envoy at the beginning of September, met with Syrian opposition leaders, who he said were "bringing new ideas" to the peace effort.
"Mr. Brahimi will listen to the opposition and officials and crystallize new ideas and a plan that could succeed," Hassan Abdel Azim, spokesman for the dissident bloc said after the talks.
"There will be new ideas and measures," Azim continued, adding that the peace initiative of Brahimi's predecessor, Annan, would be amended.
United Nations spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci said the international peace envoy would also hold talks with Arab ambassadors and a European Union delegation before heading to China, a key Damascus ally, to urge Beijing to "put pressure on the regime to stop the violence, free detainees and allow peaceful protests."
On Friday, regime forces struck at the northern city of Aleppo with fighter jets and helicopter gunships, monitors said. Warplanes hit nearby rebel-held towns and police stations that had fallen from regime hands.
Despite the shelling, residents turned out to demonstrate against the regime, activists said. Protests were reported in other cities and provinces such as Damascus, Idlib, Daraa and Hama, where the Observatory said soldiers used explosives against protesters, wounding several. The army also shot at a demonstration held in the Yarmuk camp for Palestinian refugees, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported.
Visiting neighboring Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI called for nations to stop sending arms to Syria.
"Arms imports must stop once and for all, because without arms imports, war cannot continue," the pope said.
jlw/slk (Reuters, AP, AFP)