DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The new international envoy tasked with ending Syria's civil war summed up his first foray to Damascus Saturday with a startling and frank admission that he still has no plan for stopping the bloodshed which he warned could threaten world peace.
The bleak outlook offered by veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi after three days of meetings with Syrian officials and the opposition underlines just how fruitless diplomatic efforts have been in bringing an end to the seemingly intractable and deadly 18-month-old conflict.
"I repeat ... I have no plan," Brahimi told reporters in Damascus after meeting with Syria's embattled president, Bashar Assad, in their first talks since the Algerian diplomat took up the job earlier this month that he himself has called "nearly impossible."
"We, however, will set the plan that we will follow after listening to all internal, regional and international parties, hoping that such a plan will manage to open channels toward ending the crisis," he added.
Brahimi faces a monumental task in trying to break through the deadly cycle of violence that activists say has killed at least 23,000 people since the uprising to topple Assad began in March 2011. Brahimi, who also served as a U.N. envoy in Iraq and Afghanistan, replaced former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who left the job in frustration in August after his efforts failed to resolve Syria's conflict.
Annan's six-point peace plan, which included a cease-fire, never gained traction on the ground, and was largely ignored by the government and the rebels before the plan ultimately collapsed.
The Security Council decided last month to end a 300-member U.N. military observer mission that was sent to monitor the cease-fire that never took hold, replacing it with a small liaison office that will support any future peace moves. Earlier this year, the Arab League dispatched monitors to Syria, but withdrew them after a month because they were unable to halt the fighting.
The uprising that began with largely peaceful protests has since morphed into a deadly armed insurgency with hundreds killed every week as the government increasingly relies on air power to try and crush the rebels.
Activist groups said more than 50 people were killed across the country Saturday in violence centered in the country's largest city, Aleppo, and the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The two cities were once seen as largely immune to the violence that has roiled other parts of Syria, but have been hit by fighting as rebels try to bring the battle to symbols of Assad's power. Although the regime is better armed than the rebels — its modern arsenal includes warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery — the government has not been able to crush the rebellion. The rebels also have failed to overthrow the regime, leading to a bloody stalemate that many fear will drag on indefinitely.
Mindful of the challenges on the ground, Brahimi said the crisis in Syria is "very serious and dangerous," and the gap between the political parties "very wide."