UN envoy holds talks with Assad

 

The international envoy tasked with pushing to end Syria's civil war has said the situation is still “worrying” after discussing the crisis with president Bashar Assad.

The remarks gave no indication of progress towards a negotiated solution to the conflict.

In brief comments to reporters after meeting the Syrian leader at the presidential palace in Damascus, Lakhdar Brahimi said he and Mr Assad exchanged views on the conflict and discussed possible steps forward, which he did not disclose.

"The situation in Syria is still worrying and we hope that all the parties will go towards the solution that the Syrian people are hoping for and look forward to," Mr Brahimi said.

Syria's state news agency quoted Mr Assad as saying his government supports "any effort in the interest of the Syrian people which preserves the homeland's sovereignty and independence".

The two met after a government airstrike in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people on Sunday, according to activists.

Mr Brahimi has apparently made little progress towards brokering an end to the conflict since starting his job in September, mostly because both sides adamantly refuse to talk to each other.

The government describes the rebels as foreign-backed terrorists set on destroying the country. The opposition says that forces under Mr Assad's command have killed too many people for him to be part of any solution.

Mr Brahimi's two-day visit was to end later on Monday. It is his third to Damascus as an envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

The security situation in Damascus and elsewhere in the country has declined since Mr Brahimi's previous visits. Instead of flying in to the Damascus International Airport as he did on earlier visits, Mr Brahimi drove to Damascus over land from Beirut because of the fighting near the Syrian capital's airport.

Reports by anti-regime activists of the airstrike on Sunday on a bakery in the central town of Halfaya that killed scores of people also cast a pall over Mr Brahimi's visit.

Amateur videos posted online showed the bodies of many dead and wounded scattered in a street.

On Monday, Syria's state news service blamed the attack on "an armed terrorist group" - its shorthand for the rebels - accusing them of filming the aftermath to "frame the Syrian army".

In the videos, however, armed rebels are clearly among those tending to the dead and wounded.

Anti-regime activists say the civil war has killed more than 40,000 people since March 2011.

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