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U.N. Syria envoy calls on government to start truce

- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BEIRUT — The international envoy to the Syrian conflict on Wednesday called on President Bashar Assad's regime to take the lead in a cease-fire during a major Muslim holiday later this month, calling it a "microscopic" step toward ending a crisis that he said could consume the whole region.

Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Beirut Wednesday that if the government initiates the cease-fire, everyone he has talked to on the rebel side has said they also will observe the truce.

Brahimi's push to get Assad and rebels seeking to topple him to stop fighting for the four-day Eid al-Adha feast set to begin Oct. 26 reflects how little progress international diplomacy has made in stopping 19 months of deadly violence in Syria.

Unlike his predecessor as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, Brahimi has said he has no grand plan to solve Syria's crisis. Instead, he presented the truce as a "microscopic" step that would lessen Syrian sorrow temporarily and could be the basis for a longer truce.

"The Syrian people are burying hundreds of people each day, so if they bury fewer people during the days of the holiday, this could be the start of Syria's return from the dangerous situation that it has slipped and is continuing to slip toward," he said.

Even if the rebels and regime agree, both in the past have verbally signed on to cease-fires only to then blatantly disregard them. And before Brahimi spoke, Syria's government dismissed the plan, saying the rebels lack a unified leadership to sign the truce.

"There is the state, represented by the government and the army on one front, but who is on the other front?" asked an editorial in the Al-Thawra daily.

The scores of rebel units fighting a brutal civil war against the regime have no unified leadership, and many don't communicate with each other.

Brahimi spoke following meetings with top Lebanese officials as part of a regional tour. He said all countries must work to stop Syria's civil by halting arms shipments so the conflict doesn't spread.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are sympathetic to the rebels and are believed to be facilitating their acquisition of weapons or arming them directly. Iran and Russia are Assad's biggest supporters and provide the Syrian military with most of its advanced weapons.

"These countries need to realize, as we heard today in Lebanon, that it is not possible that this crisis will stay inside Syrian border forever," he said. "Either it has to be taken care of or it will spread and spill over and consume everything."

Rebel leaders were not immediately available for comment on the proposed truce.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said in statement released by the state news agency Wednesday that the government was waiting for Brahimi to come to Damascus to convey to officials there the results of his tour.

They would welcome any "constructive initiative," Makdessi said.

It was unclear if Brahimi would travel to Damascus from Beirut.

Activists say more than 33,000 have been killed since Syria's uprising started in March 2011.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

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