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Assad accepts Syria's Muslim holiday truce, envoy tells UN

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 24 Oct 2012 16:41 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The U.N.-Arab League mediator for the Syrian conflict told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accepted a ceasefire for the Muslim holiday starting Friday, though a final announcement was expected to come later.

"President accepted, statement to be issued tomorrow," a diplomat present at a closed-door briefing said mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the 15-nation council via video link. He was speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Brahimi was expanding on remarks he made earlier on Wednesday to reporters in Cairo. After Brahimi spoke to the press in Egypt, the Syrian government appeared to contradict him, saying that its military command was still studying a proposal for a ceasefire with rebels on the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Asked if he could confirm Assad's personal support for the holiday truce, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said to reporters: "Good to see you."

On the way into the council meeting, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow hoped Brahimi's plan for a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of would be successful.

"We support it very strongly," Churkin said. "We worked very hard in support of Mr. Brahimi in making sure there is a chance that might happen."

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong echoed Churkin's remarks.

"We support a truce and we support Mr. Brahimi's effort," Li told reporters. "I think it's important for all parties to understand the importance of peace and stability."

"If there is 1 percent chance (of a ceasefire) then I think we should make 100 percent effort to make that happen," he said.

The United States and European council members blame Russia, a staunch ally and key arms supplier for Assad's government, and China for the council's deadlock on the 19-month-long conflict. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad and reject the idea of sanctioning his government.

U.S. BOOSTS 'NON-LETHAL' AID TO REBELS

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary said Washington also would like to see an end to the violence.

"And we'd like to see a political transition take hold and begin," she told reporters in Washington in an appearance with the visiting Brazilian foreign minister. "We've been calling for that for more than a year."

She said the United States was increasing its non-lethal support for the Syrian opposition, including working with local councils inside Syria. She said Washington also was working with its friends and allies to promote more cohesion among the disparate Syrian opposition groups with the aim of producing a new leadership council following meetings scheduled for Doha in the next several weeks.

Brahimi also told the Security Council that he needs its "strong and unanimous support."

"Another failure would lead to extreme escalation and spillover to other countries," a diplomat inside the meeting paraphrased Brahimi as saying.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay also emphasized the need for the council to overcome its impasse on Syria in an address to the 193-nation General Assembly.

"While taking into account important political concerns, it is urgent to find ways to avert the massive loss of civilians and human rights violations," Pillay said.

"International law obliges states to protect their people, and where a state manifestly fails to carry out this obligation, then the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," she said.

Russia and China have repeatedly said they refuse to condone outside military intervention in Syria such as the NATO operation to protect civilians in Libya last year that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his death at the hands of rebels who fought to oust him.

Brahimi told the council there was no longer a single safe place for Syrian civilians in the country and that the army continues to shell indiscriminately, diplomats said. He also spoke of a disregard for humanitarian law and human rights on both sides.

"Executions, kidnapping and arbitrary detentions (by the government) continue," a diplomat cited Brahimi as saying.

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