Envoy warns Assad: Change is urgent
on 01/09/2012 19:44:56
Lakhdar Brahimi's comments in an interview with al-Arabiya television came as Syrian warplanes and ground forces pounded the country's largest city, Aleppo, with bombs and mortar rounds while soldiers clashed with rebels in the narrow streets of its old quarter, according to activists.
The latest violence shows that government troops are still struggling to regain full control of the city from the lightly armed rebels nearly five weeks after they stormed their way into it in a surprise offensive. Activists said rebels also captured an air defence facility in the east of the country near the border with Iraq.
"The Syrian government realises more than me the extent of the suffering endured by the Syrian people," Mr Brahimi told al-Arabiya on his first day as the new UN envoy in Syria, after replacing Kofi Annan who quit after his six-point plan including an April 12 ceasefire failed to stop the bloodshed.
Speaking in New York, he said: "The need for change is urgent and necessary. The Syrian people must be satisfied and their legitimate demands are met."
A former Algerian foreign minister and a seasoned international trouble-shooter, Mr Brahimi said he enjoyed the "full and clear" support of the UN Security Council.
He also called for an end to the violence but acknowledged that he does not have a set of preconceived ideas on how to resolve the Syrian conflict. "We will try to overcome the obstacles that Kofi Annan faced," he added.
The Syrian conflict has its roots in mostly peaceful street protests that started in March last year. It has since morphed into a civil war, with at least 20,000 people killed so far, according to rights activists.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in Aleppo were concentrated in several tense neighbourhoods - Hanano, Bustan al-Qasr, Sukkari and Maysar. It reported injuries and damage to buildings.
Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), said the government was making heavy use of warplanes in attacking rebel areas.
An Associated Press Television video showed rebel fighters, some in civilian clothes, in the street trading fire with government troops.
Activists said that this is the second day of a rebel push in Aleppo dubbed "Northern Volcano" targeting security facilities in the city and the surrounding province, including an artillery training school, a compound of the feared air force intelligence, and a large army checkpoint.
For more than a year after the uprising against Assad's rule began nearly 18 months ago, Aleppo and Damascus stayed relatively quiet. But in July, rebels launched a brazen attack on the two cities, capturing several neighbourhoods.
Government forces have regained most of the Damascus area but are being held at bay in Aleppo.
In the east, the Observatory reported that rebels captured an air defence post in the town of al-Boukamal in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq. The opposition has claimed advances in the area in recent days.
A video released by activists showed soldiers who said they were captured at the post after rebels took it. The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.
Despite the government's control of Damascus, opposition fighters continue to stage attacks using hit-and-run tactics in neighbourhoods where they enjoy popular support, activists say.
Early today, government forces bombarded the capital's southern neighbourhood of Tadamon following street fighting with rebels there, the Observatory said. The LCC said troops also shelled the nearby neighbourhood of Hajar Aswad.
The state-run news agency SANA said army brigadier general Taher Subeira was killed by "terrorists" who placed a bomb under his car while parked in front of his Damascus home and detonated it when he got into the vehicle.
The Observatory said the bodies of five unidentified people were found in the neighbourhood of Qadam, all shot execution-style.
Other clashes were reported in Idlib province on the border with Turkey, in Daraa near the Jordanian frontier, and in the central province of Homs near Lebanon, activists said.
SANA meanwhile reported that 225 detainees who took part in anti-government protests were released. The amnesty by authorities is the second in a week. On Monday, some 378 prisoners from Damascus and the central province of Homs were freed.
Rights activists say tens of thousands of Syrians have been detained over the past 18 months.