UN-Arab League envoy arrives in Syria

Longtime diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi aims to persuade Syrian officials and rebel factions to attend peace talks in Geneva

The U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, right, is welcomed by Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Moqdad, left, upon his arrival in Damascus on Oct. 28, 2013 as part of a tour aimed at garnering support for proposed peace talks.
Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Damascus on Monday to try building support for next month’s Geneva peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition, amid reports of fierce fighting in and around the capital city.

The so-called Geneva II peace talks, backed by Russia and the U.S. and set for  Nov. 23, have been repeatedly postponed amid wrangling among the Syrian opposition, and a dispute over which countries would be allowed to participate.

The peace talks aim to end a civil war that has raged for nearly three years, killed as many as 100,000 people and triggered a regional refugee crisis.

During his visit, Brahimi is expected to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign minister Walid al-Muallem. But making the task difficult is the refusal of 19 powerful rebel groups in Syria to take part in the conference, saying that negotiating with the Assad government would be an act of betrayal.

"We consider it just another part of the conspiracy to throw our revolution off track and to abort it," said a joint statement read by Ahmad Eissa al-Sheikh, head of one of the rebel groups.

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Brahimi is making his first visit to Syria since last December. At that time, he called for "real change," and for all powers to be handed over to a transitional government.

Brahimi was appointed the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria in September 2012, after Kofi Annan resigned from the post.

His current Syria trip is part of an extensive regional tour. He has already visited Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Oman and Qatar. He met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday and told him that the presence of Iran, a key Assad ally, is necessary for the Geneva talks to succeed. A few days earlier he met King Abdullah II, the leader of Jordan, a country hosting over half a million Syrian refugees.

Last week, Brahimi held talks with leaders of the Free Syrian Army in Turkey and other military commanders fighting against the Assad government.

Heavy fighting

Brahimi’s visit comes amid heavy fighting between Assad troops and rebel forces in and around Damascus.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital city reported fighting in Barza, a district in Damascus that the rebels have been attempting to storm, as well as in the rebel-held town of al-Kiswa, and the government-controlled town of Darayya.

The clashes come a day after opposition activists reported the death of Shia fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group allied with Asad. Rebels had bombed a building where they were stationed in Damascus's Saida Zeinab district.

Assad's forces, backed by Shia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, have been gaining ground around the capital since last month, storming several rebel-held suburbs and choking off supplies to others in the southe and east.

Although neither side appears to have the strength to gain a decisive edge in the conflict, the government's offensive has bolstered its position in the lead-up to the expected international peace talks.

Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse

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