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UN envoy urges Syria truce as conflict enters month 20

16 october 2012, 16:23
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International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called for a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, as the revolt enters its 20th month with a death toll of more than 33,000, AFP reports.

Brahimi made his call on Monday as he shuttled between Syria's neighbours, which have been bitterly divided by the conflict along the confessional lines that have traditionally riven the Islamic world.

He was in Shiite-majority Iraq after talks in Shiite-ruled Iran, closest ally of the minority Alawite-dominated regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last week, Brahimi visited Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the two Sunni-led states which have been the greatest champions of the Syrian opposition.

"Brahimi has appealed to the Iranian authorities to assist in achieving a ceasefire in Syria during the forthcoming Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest holidays celebrated by the Muslims around the world," a statement from the envoy said.

Eid al-Adha, which falls at the end of October, marks the climax of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

"He reiterated the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a ceasefire and a halt to the flow of arms to both sides. A ceasefire, he said, would help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop."

But Brahimi denied a claim by Ahmed Ramadan, an official from the main opposition Syrian National Council, that he sought a peacekeeping force.

"You've read that I have asked for peacekeeping," he told reporters in Baghdad. "I haven't."

Iran proposed to Brahimi a political transition supervised by Assad, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolahian said, an idea unlikely to be acceptable to the opposition.

Turkey said on Sunday it had banned Syrian civilian aircraft from its airspace, mirroring a similar move by Damascus, as tensions soared after Ankara confiscated a cargo of radar equipment from a Syrian flight from Moscow last week.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that the cargo contained "war equipment."

"There is no point in diverting and saying it is radar equipment. Radar equipment functions as war equipment anyway," he said.

The matching flight bans came amid increasing tensions on the long Syria-Turkey border, large swathes of which have been seized by rebels.

On October 3, five Turkish civilians were killed by cross-border fire against the rebels that Syria charges are receiving arms from Gulf Arab states through Turkey.

The United States on Monday called on all Syria's neighbors to keep a careful watch over their airspace.

"Certainly we support the decision that Turkey has made in light of the apparent violation of their airspace by this aircraft," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"We are encouraging all of Syria's neighbors to be vigilant with regard to how their airspace is used, particularly now that we have this concrete example."

Meanwhile the European Union imposed a new package of unilateral sanctions on Damascus on Monday, its 19th since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, a traditional ally of Syria, visited Luxembourg on Sunday for talks with his EU counterparts, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday: "I can't say that we made any progress."

Russia and China have repeatedly blocked action at the UN Security Council against the Assad regime.

-- Journalist kidnapped --

--------------------------

Ukraine said on Monday that one of its journalists working for a Russian television crew has been kidnapped.

The foreign ministry said Ankhar Kochneva, who had reportedly expressed support for Assad's regime, told her employers she was kidnapped on October 9 and was being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Inside Syria, at least 16 soldiers were killed around two checkpoints near the commercial capital of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Near one checkpoint, troops killed the driver of a vehicle carrying three tonnes of explosives that he intended to detonate, a security source told AFP.

Aleppo has seen intense conflict for the past three months, including in the city's UNESCO-listed historic heart, with damage to both the ancient covered market, or souk, and the landmark 13th century Umayyad Mosque.

A day after troops recaptured the complex from rebels, spent cartridges and broken glass still littered the ground, an AFP correspondent reported.

At least 130 people were killed nationwide on Monday, including three children who died in army shelling of the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, the Observatory said.

It said 78 of those killed were civilians.

The Syrian army, meanwhile, denied using cluster munitions and said it did not possess the weapon, state news agency SANA reported, after Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged the military to stop using cluster bombs.

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