Only political process can save Syria from hell: Brahimi

The international mediator seeking peace in Syria warned of “hell” if no deal is struck to end 21 months of bloodshed, but his talks in Russia capping a week of intense diplomacy brought no sign of a breakthrough.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both said there was still a chance for a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 44,000 people and set world powers against one another.

But Lavrov firmly repeated Russia’s stance that President Bashar al-Assad’s exit cannot
be a precondition for a political solution, saying that such demands were “wrong” and that the opposition’s refusal to talk to the government was a “dead end”. “If the only alternative is really hell or a political process. then all of us must work ceaselessly for a political process,” Brahimi said. “It is difficult, it is very complicated but there is no other choice.”

Lavrov issued a similar exhortation in a joint appearance at an ornate mansion where he meets foreign dignitaries, saying: “The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance.”

But Lavrov, whose country has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions meant to put pressure on Assad, gave no indication it would back down from that stance. “When the opposition says only Assad’s exit will allow it to begin a dialogue about the future of its own country, we think this is wrong, we think this is rather counterproductive,” he said.

“The costs of this precondition are more and more lives of Syrian citizens.” Russia has tried
to distance itself from Assad for months and seems to have stepped up its calls for a peaceful resolution as the rebels have gained ground against government forces in the conflict, which has began with peaceful protests in March 2011 but which has descended into a civil war.

Meanwhile, Syrian forces have pushed rebels from a district in Homs after several days of fierce fighting in the strategically important city, opposition activists said on Saturday.

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