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Syria Talks End With No Breakthrough

  • Lisa Schlein
  • Edward Yeranian

UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi gestures during a stakeout following a meeting with top US and Russian officials on the Syrian conflict at the United Nations office in Geneva, January 11, 2013.

UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi gestures during a stakeout following a meeting with top US and Russian officials on the Syrian conflict at the United Nations office in Geneva, January 11, 2013.

International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi says talks with senior U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva ended Friday without a breakthrough about how to end the civil war in Syria.

Brahimi held closed-door talks Friday at United Nations' European headquarters in Switzerland with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Mikhail Bogdanov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

The discussions focused on the implementation of a plan for ending the war, which was proposed by the Action Group for Syria in June.

The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire and for the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups.

Afterwards, Brahimi told reporters all sides underscored the need for a political solution to the crisis. But he acknowledged that resolving the crisis in the near future is not likely.

"If you are asking me whether a solution is around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case," he said. "What I am certain of, is that it is, there is an absolute necessity for people to continue to work for such a peaceful solution."


Rebels claim gains

Friday's meeting comes as rebels reportedly seized a key Syrian military air base after several days of fighting.

Rebel fighters stormed the government compound at Taftanaz helicopter base in Idlib province. Arab media reported that rebels later evacuated the building after government artillery hit the base from a nearby town.

A rebel commander told Al Arabiya TV that five rebel brigades took part in capturing the base and received help from fighters of the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. The commander said dozens of government soldiers were captured, along with tanks, armored vehicles and boxes of munitions.

The Syrian government has not responded to the claims.

Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said a number of other government airports and military bases are now under rebel siege.

"The Taftanaz airport is the second largest helicopter base in the country," he said. "This is a huge base and the rebels persistently besieged it and now managed to over-run it, and these rebels have also besieged about four other airports, and other bases are under attack."

Aleppo offensive

Witnesses also said that government forces mounted an offensive in the center of Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, in a bid to break out of a rebel siege. Government soldiers continue to hold the historic Aleppo citadel and swathes of territory to the east and south of the city.

Rebel commanders in Damascus say that an explosion targeted a convoy carrying top military officials from a security meeting Friday at the presidential palace. They said that the Iranian ambassador, several Hezbollah commanders and four Russian generals were in that convoy.

There was no government confirmation of the report.

Government forces have been trying to extract rebels from around the capital in recent days, but successes have been limited.

Analyst Kahwaji says the rebels have been making slow, but steady progress.

"It's not a stalemate, because the rebels are making gains," he said. "It's slow progress, but it seems to be a steady progress."

Regime still strong

But analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group said the Assad regime still has significant assets, including firepower and strategic tactical positions, which will make any rebel advance long and painful.

"It's quite obvious that the regime is being forced into a fighting retreat, but it remains a more potent enemy than the opposition or commentators abroad want to make of it," he said. "The regime has massive military assets in Damascus, is in control of a large and defensible area on the heights above the capital and also has significant social bases in that part of the country.”

Harling said that rebel forces have “failed to completely uproot the regime” from northern strongholds and he predicts the battle for the capital will be a “challenge” in the months to come.

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