Syria welcomes Lakhdar Brahimi as Annan successor

Algeria`s former foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan as peace envoy to Syria on Friday.

Updated: Aug 18, 2012, 23:15 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Beirut: The Syrian government on Saturday welcomed the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN-Arab League representative for the Middle East country.

Algeria`s former foreign minister Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan as peace envoy to Syria on Friday.

In the meantime, activists reported more shelling by regime troops, including an air attack on a northern border town where scores died earlier this week.

In a statement, the office of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa not only expressed support for Lakhdar Brahimi, it also denied reports circulating in Arab media that al-Sharaa had defected to the opposition.

Al-Sharaa "did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country”, the statement said.

The vice president`s cousin Yaroub, a colonel in the military defected to the opposition earlier this month, appearing on the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV. The regime of President Bashar Assad has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though his inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him.

The highest-ranking political defector so far, Assad`s former prime minister Riad Hijab, has gone to Qatar where he may reveal his future plans, according to Syrian rebels and a relative of Hijab. Qatar is among a group of Gulf Arab nations that have backed the rebellion against Assad.

The new UN envoy, Brahimi, takes over from former secretary-general Kofi Annan who is stepping down on August 31 after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed. His appointment comes as UN observers have begun leaving Syria, with their mission officially over at the end of Sunday. Their deployment earlier this year had been one of the only concrete achievements in Annan`s peace attempts. The observers had been intended to watch over a ceasefire, but no truce ever took hold.

Al-Sharaa`s office said the vice president "supports Brahimi`s demand to get united support from the Security Council to carry out his mission without obstacles”.

In new violence on Saturday, regime airstrikes and shelling his rebel areas across the country, including the southern province of Daraa, the northern region of Aleppo, Deir el-Zour to the east and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, activists said. Activists said at least 15 people were killed in the Deir el-Zour area.

One air raid hit the northern town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There was no immediate word on casualties. Earlier this week, an airstrike on Azaz killed more than 40 people and wounded at least 100, according to international watchdog Human Rights Watch, whose team visited the site.

Azaz, which is home to around 35,000 people, is also the town where rebels have been holding 11 Lebanese Shi’ites captured in May.

Also on Saturday, 40 bodies were found piled on a street in the Damascus suburb of al-Tal, according to the Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees. The suburb saw days of heavy fighting until regime forces largely took over the area earlier this week.

The 40 had all been killed by bullet wounds, but their identity was not known, nor was it known who had killed them, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory.

"It is not clear if they were civilians, Army defectors or soldiers," he said. Also unclear was whether they had been killed at the place where the bodies were found or if residents had collected the bodies there.

In Damascus, a UN spokeswoman said the last of the organisation`s observers still in Syria have started to leave the country ahead of the official end of their mission at midnight Sunday. There are about 100 observers left in Syria — a third of the number at the peak of the mission earlier this year.

Most will leave within hours, though some could be delayed by logistics, Juliette Touma told a news agency.

The Security Council agreed this week to end the UN mission and back a small new liaison office that will support any future peace efforts.

(With Agency inputs)