- Associated Press - Monday, September 3, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Government warplanes bombed a town in northern Syria on Monday, killing at least 18 people, activists said, while the new U.N. envoy to the country acknowledged that brokering an end to the nation’s civil war will be a “very, very difficult” task.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the airstrikes targeted a residential area in the northern town of al-Bab, about 20 miles from the Turkish border. The Observatory said 18 people were killed in the town; the LCC put the death toll at 25.

An amateur video showed men frantically searching for bodies in the rubble of a white building turned into a pile of debris. The video could not be independently verified.

Syrian’s uprising began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime, but it since has morphed into a civil war in the face of a brutal government crackdown. Activists say at least 23,000 people have been killed so far.

The violence has escalated in recent months, and activist groups said Sunday that some 5,000 people were killed in August alone — the highest ever reported in more than 17 months of bloodshed.

On Monday, activists reported violence across the country, including the suburbs of the capital, Damascus; the eastern region of Deir el-Zour; and Daraa to the south and Idlib and Aleppo to the north.

Activists and state media also said a roadside bomb in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana wounded several people.

Diplomatic efforts, including a six-point peace plan by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to solve the conflict have failed so far.

The new U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, took over the post Saturday from Mr. Annan, who quit at the end of August.

Mr. Brahimi, a 78-year-old former Algerian diplomat, commended Mr. Annan on his work, saying he did “everything possible.”

“I was very in touch with him all the time. We discussed this several times, and I can’t think of anything that I would have done differently from him,” Mr. Brahimi told the BBC in an interview. “It is definitely a very, very difficult mission.”

In Damascus, Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi vowed that Syria “will give Brahimi every possible assistance. We will give him maximum assistance the way we did with Kofi Annan.”

The Assad regime made similar public statements when it signed on to Mr.  Annan’s peace plan, only to frequently ignore or outright violate its commitments by failing to pull its troops out of cities or stop shelling opposition areas.

Mr. al-Zoebi also sought to deflect some of the responsibility for the success or failure of Mr. Brahimi’s mission onto the shoulders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying they must “stop sending weapons (to rebels) and close training bases” they are hosting.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the harshest critics of the Assad regime and strongly support the rebels who are trying to overthrow him.

Mr. Brahimi said he is “scared of the weight of the responsibility” and that he is “standing in front of a brick wall.”

“We’ll have to see if we can go around that wall,” he said.

Mr. Brahimi, who is also a former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, made his comments alongside U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in his first public appearance at the United Nations since accepting the job.

“I am coming into it with my eyes open, with no illusions that it is going to be easy, but then, have you heard of a mission that the United Nations have undertaken that was easy?” he said. “It’s a duty to try, and that is what we are going to do.”

Asked where his task was “Mission Impossible,” Mr. Brahimi said, “I suppose it is.”