- Associated Press - Sunday, December 23, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — The international envoy tasked with ending Syria‘s civil war hoped to discuss ways of ending the crisis during a visit to Damascus that began Sunday, officials said, but there appeared little reason for optimism.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, has made little apparent progress toward brokering an end to Syria‘s civil war since he assumed his post in September, mostly because neither side appears interested in talks.

The security situation inside Syria has deteriorated in the meantime, with rebel forces expanding their control in the north and near the capital and storming a number of army bases, making off with valuable weapons.

Mr. Brahimi’s trip, his third to Damascus since taking his post, appeared troubled from the start.

Instead of flying directly to Syria, as he has on previous visits, Mr. Brahimi landed in Beirut and traveled to the Syrian capital by land because of fighting near the Damascus airport, Lebanese officials said.

Mr. Brahimi did not speak publicly upon his arrival in Damascus.

The Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said Mr. Brahimi was expected to meet Syria‘s foreign minister later Sunday and President Bashar Assad on Monday.

It is unclear what new ideas Mr. Brahimi could present to make progress toward a peace deal.

In a lengthy Sunday news conference, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi repeated the Syrian government’s line that it is fighting terrorist groups backed by foreign powers who seek to destroy Syria.

Mr. al-Zoubi said the government was willing to engage in dialogue but said the other side wasn’t.

“We speak of dialogue with those who believe in national dialogue,” he said, “but those who rejected dialogue in their statements and called for arms and use of weapons, that’s a different issue. They don’t want dialogue.”

Rebel groups refuse to talk to Mr. Assad, demanding that he step down instead.

Mr. al-Zoubi equated the rebels with al Qaeda and denied that they had taken over any territory.

“They are not able to attack even a military checkpoint and remain in it for 15 minutes,” he said. He also said the opposition does not provide citizens with services, as the Syrian government does.

While rebel forces often do withdraw from government sites after storming them to avoid being targeted by airstrikes, large areas of north Syria and parts of the Damascus suburbs are effectively held by rebels, and local councils try to run bakeries and provide services such as water and electricity.

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