Syrian airline cancels flight to Aleppo
BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's national airline canceled a flight to Aleppo on Saturday because of fighting near its international airport, while the United Nations top envoy to the country said it faced "hell or a political process" but gave no sign a truce was in sight.
The two developments underscored just how far international efforts to end the violence in Syria have fallen behind developments on the ground, more than 21 months into the conflict.
Speaking in Moscow, Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents the U.N. and the Arab League, warned that the civil war could spread chaos in the region by sending streams of refugees into neighboring countries.
Since starting his job in September, Brahimi has sought to advance an international plan that calls for an open-ended cease-fire between rebels and government troops and the formation of a transitional government to run the country until elections can be held.
After a trip to Damascus last week and talks with Russian officials, Brahimi said a truce is the country's only way out.
"If the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for a political process," he said.
But neither side appears interested in the plan. The rebels reject any efforts that do not call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, and Assad's government is unlikely to give up power voluntarily. It has not commented on Brahimi's plan.
Speaking alongside Brahimi, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his government would continue to refuse any plan that calls for Assad's ouster and that Assad had repeatedly said he would not step down.
"There is no possibility to change that stance," he said.
He criticized the opposition's insistence on Assad's departure as "counterproductive."
"The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives," he said.
Russia has long been Assad's biggest international backer, selling arms to his forces and, along with China, protecting Syria from sanction by the U.N. Security Council.
Russia has called for a negotiated solution to the conflict, while top officials appear increasingly resigned to Assad's possible ouster by rebel forces.
Violence continued around Syria on Saturday.
Cairo airport officials said a flight that was supposed to stop in Aleppo before continuing to Damascus flew straight to Damascus "because of the deteriorated security situation" near the Aleppo airport.
It was the first time a flight to Syria's largest city had been canceled because of fighting near the airport, they said. The Syrian government and its airline did not comment.
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