News / Middle East

UN Envoy: No Plan Yet for Saving Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi, center, special representative for Syria, arrives at closed door Security Council consultations, U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept.  24,  2012.
Lakhdar Brahimi, center, special representative for Syria, arrives at closed door Security Council consultations, U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept. 24, 2012.
Margaret Besheer, Edward YeranianJeff Seldin
— Reform is not enough for Syria, it needs change, according to new U.N.-Arab League special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.  The envoy made the remarks after briefing the Security Council Monday on his recent trip to the region.

U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the situation in Syria, where more than 20,000 people have died, more than a million have been made homeless, and more than two million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, is extremely bad and getting worse.  But he said he hopes to find an opening for progress soon. 

“I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward . That you cannot go back to the Syria of the past.  But, I told everyone in Damascus and elsewhere, that reform is not enough anymore, what is needed is change," he said.

After taking up his post three weeks ago, following Kofi Annan’s resignation, Brahimi went to Damascus, Cairo, and to refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan. 

He repeated that he has no formal plan for achieving a breakthrough, but the veteran diplomat said he has a few ideas and plans to return to the region soon.  Until he has a plan, he said he would continue working with Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan and the June 30 communique of a meeting of states in Geneva that urged a cessation of hostilities and movement toward a political transition. 

The former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. diplomat also acknowledged the divisions within the Syrian opposition, but said they are working to bridge their differences. “I know that the members of Syrian opposition are still trying.  Their attempts have been disappointing until now, I am sure they will not mind me saying so.  I think their friends also are encouraging them to do better," he said. 

Brahimi also acknowledged the paralysis in the U.N. Security Council on Syria, where Russia and China have three times used their veto to block Council action, saying if he is not seen as representing a united Council he is “nothing.”
 
Continuing violence

Deaths Across Syria, map dated September 17, 2012Deaths Across Syria, map dated September 17, 2012
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Deaths Across Syria, map dated September 17, 2012
Deaths Across Syria, map dated September 17, 2012
Brahimi's briefing came during another day of violence in Syria.

Syrian government warplanes continued their bombing campaign in and around the major city of Aleppo, pounding civilian districts and causing a number of casualties.
 
Amateur video showed neighbors and rescue workers clawing through the rubble of a collapsed building, searching for survivors. Chunks of concrete and wooden doors dangled overhead as the crowd picked through the debris.
 
Witnesses say a government warplane dropped what local residents call a “barrel bomb” over several buildings in Aleppo Monday, causing them to collapse.
 
For months now, analysts say the government appears to be using large metal barrels filled with explosives and shrapnel to destroy buildings.
 
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition Local Coordination Committees said the early morning strikes destroyed two buildings in the southern part of the city.
 
Elsewhere, video from Homs, shown on the Al Jazeera television network, showed smoke rising from parts of the city, amid reports of more shelling and fighting there.
 
Collective violence
 
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said government forces are inflicting collective violence on the population out of desperation.
 
"It goes without saying: that's collective punishment and massive destruction," he said. "Syrian MiGs are not known for being precision fighter jets and they don't have military targets to use missiles. The fact that government troops are using maximum firepower indicates despair."
 
Pro-government Addounia TV claimed that regime forces recaptured territory inside Aleppo from rebel fighters, showing a group of soldiers running across a street filled with debris. The report also showed images of the local governor's office, saying it had been retaken from rebels.
 
The television channel also interviewed several people who said they are from a neighborhood “liberated” by government troops. One middle-aged man told the pro-government station that life is better when the government is in control.
 
In Damascus, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said the rebels are headed for defeat.
 
"It is only a matter of time, and it won't be long," he said. "We are heading for a definite victory and it will be achieved very soon. Anyone who is betting against this (victory) whether military, political or security, will fail and is stupid, an idiot or a conspirator."
 
UN food aid
 
Meanwhile, there are some indications international efforts are starting to make a difference, including those by the U.N.'s World Food Program in Homs.
 
Syria Refugees Flee Areas of ConflictSyria Refugees Flee Areas of Conflict
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Syria Refugees Flee Areas of Conflict
Syria Refugees Flee Areas of Conflict
Country Director Muhannad Hadi said despite the ongoing violence, the WFP remains determined.
 
"This is one of the areas in Homs that sustained a lot of damage," he said. "WFP provides food assistance to the people who live there and will provide more assistance to the people who decide to return."
 
The WFP estimates 223,000 people are relying on its help as they live in shelters and mosques.
 
The United Nations says more than 260,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries during the 18 months of conflict. There are also thought to be more than 1.2 million people displaced inside Syria, and 2.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
 
- Edward Yeranian reported from Cairo and Jeff Seldin reported from Washington.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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