Damascus: International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi begins a Middle East tour today to pave the way for proposed peace talks on Syria, where dozens of people were killed in the latest fighting in Aleppo province.
The UN-Arab League representative`s visit is part of international efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva next month but prospects for the talks remain unclear, with the Syrian opposition divided and due to vote next week on whether to take part.
Brahimi`s tour comes as Saudi Arabia, a staunch backer of the opposition, in an unprecedented move yesterday rejected a seat on the UN Security Council in part to protest the world body`s failure to act against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Saudi government said "allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people" with chemical weapons is "irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities".
On the ground, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported dozens of deaths in the northern province of Aleppo yesterday, including 12 Kurds killed by regime shelling in the town of Tal-Aran, where nine people were killed on Thursday.
The town lies on a strategic route between Aleppo city and Sfeirah, a town under rebel control near a military base where the regime is believed to store some of its chemical arsenal.
Elsewhere in the province, the Observatory said at least 20 regime troops and seven rebels were killed after opposition forces attacked an air defence base southwest of Aleppo city.
The plight of civilians in the war-torn country prompted a strongly worded statement from the United States, calling on the Syrian regime to give access to humanitarian aid convoys, and warning against further massacres.
There were now "unprecedented reports of children dying of malnutrition-related causes in areas that are only a few miles from Bashar al-Assad`s palace in Damascus," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki yesterday.
She added that "the regime`s deliberate prevention of the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian supplies to thousands of civilians is unconscionable".
Also yesterday the Red Cross in Syria released a video appeal for the immediate release of three kidnapped staff, warning if not, "it will affect negatively the aid we are trying to bring to the Syrian people".
Brahimi begins his travels today in Egypt, the first leg of a regional tour to prepare the ground for the conference.