Civil society is beginning to take over from rebels’ military life in Azaz, as residents re-establish the rule of law.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, has called on the divided United Nations Security Council to take action to end the ongoing conflict in Syria, saying it was “the last appeal”.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Friday, Brahimi said neither the Syrian people, nor the countries of the region, were able to find a way to end the conflict.
“All that is left is the wider international world,” he said, saying only the UN Security Council could find a solution. “You are the last appeal,” he told the conference.
“Please do your job…We need a clear decision from the Security Council to set the agenda for a peaceful solution of the problem.”
Brahimi went on to say that he would not give up hope that a solution for the country’s conflict would be found.
“But you know having hope doesn’t mean being starry eyed, and frankly now as we speak, I am much more conscious of the difficulties and of the country being broken, day after day than I am of a solution around the corner,” he said.
Mouaz al-Khatib, Syria’s top opposition leader, also spoke at the conference, saying he was willing to sit down for talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, “but the regime should make its own gesture by releasing 160,000 detainees”.
Khatib reiterated an offer first made on Wednesday, which had provoked an outcry from some opposition groups that insist Assad must step down first. He back-peddled on Thursday, saying he was just expressing his own opinion.
Khatib was chosen in November to head the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a new umbrella group designed to represent most of the rebels and soothe Western concerns about the ability of the opposition to pull together and present a viable alternative to Assad’s rule.
The US, its Western allies and most opposition groups insist Assad must step down first, a position that Syria’s longtime ally Russia has strongly opposed.
Despite the controversy raised by the comments, they marked the first opening for the possibility of dialogue to end a nearly two-year-long conflict that the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.
Khatib said any assistance from the international community would be welcomed and that the opposition groups were striving to enter negotiations to “peacefully overthrow the regime”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday held his first meeting with Khatib, Russian news reports quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
The meeting was held on the sidelines of the conference, the reports said, without disclosing the substance of the talks.
Earlier on Friday, opposition sources said Khatib would meet Brahimi on the sidelines of the conference, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Vice President Joe Biden.
The rare talks came after Biden told the conference that the US was pushing to help strengthen the opposition, insisting Assad was a “tyrant” and must go.
Biden said it was “no secret” that Moscow and Washington have “serious differences” on issues like Syria, as fears mount that the 23-month conflict will draw in neighbouring states.
“We can all agree… on the increasingly desperate plight of the Syrian people and the responsibility of the international community to address that plight,” he added.
UN official and a senior Russian diplomat said there were no plans for Lavrov and Biden to meet, but a Russian diplomatic source did not rule out a meeting taking place “spontaneously” at the weekend conference.
Khatib in December rejected a Russian invitation to come to Moscow for talks and urged Lavrov to apologise for what he said was Russian intervention in Syria and support for Assad.
Russia, Syria’s main arms supplier, has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions on Syrian conflict.
Meanwhile, a senior Iranian security official visiting Damascus on Saturday pledged Tehran’s full support for the Syrian regime, its close ally, Syrian state television said.
“We will give all our support so that Syria remains firm and able to face all the arrogant (Western) conspiracies,” said Saeed Jalili, who heads the Supreme National Security Council.