DAMASCUS: Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Tuesday with internal opposition groups as he pushed a new initiative to end Syria's conflict, and as Gulf Arab states urged a rapid political transition in the country.
Pope Benedict XVI called in his traditional Christmas message for "an end to the bloodshed" and for "dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution" in Syria.
Brahimi, the UN-Arab League's special envoy to Syria, held talks at his Damascus hotel with a delegation of six people led by Hassan Abdel Azim, head of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), an opposition group tolerated by the regime.
Azim said afterwards that Brahimi would stay in Syria until Sunday "to try to implement an international consensus to end the crisis."
His deputy Raja Nasser was more forthcoming, telling reporters: "The only solution is a transitional government that holds all powers.
"A political solution is the only solution, and this means the establishment of a new democratic regime instead of the current regime."
The comments come in the wake of a report by a French daily of a supposed US-Russian initiative for a transition in Syria, which has caused rage among opponents who reject any compromise with the regime.
Le Figaro newspaper said a solution in the offing would involve keeping Assad in power until 2014 while preventing him from further renewing his mandate.
The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists, blasted Brahimi and the international community for failing to stop the bloodshed.
On Tuesday at least 31 people were killed across Syria according to preliminary figures given by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a day after 126 people died.
More than 44,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in March last year, the Observatory estimates.
"Brahimi's arrival in Damascus to discuss a new political initiative to solve the crisis caused by the regime... has not put a stop... to massacres," the LCC said.
It said the LCC rejects "any initiative that puts Syrians in a position where they are extorted and forced to choose between accepting unfair compromises, or the continuation of the regime's crimes against them."
The opposition Muslim Brotherhood also dismissed any compromise that would leave Assad in power.
"We consider that giving Assad the opportunity to commit an endless string of crimes is tantamount to complicity in these crimes," it said.
Brahimi met Assad on Monday, saying afterwards that they had "exchanged views on the many steps to be taken in the future" regarding the "always worrying" Syrian crisis.
Assad called the meeting "friendly and constructive."
Violence raged southwest of Damascus on Tuesday, mainly in the towns of Moadamiyet al-Sham and Daraya, the Observatory said, adding at least eight people were "summarily executed" in the area by regime forces.
Rebels seized the town of Harem in the northwestern province of Idlib, large swathes of which are now in rebel hands, it added.
The Gulf Cooperation Council of six Arab monarchies expressed "deep sadness over the continued shedding of blood by the regime and the destruction of cities and infrastructure, making political transition a demand which must be rapidly implemented."
The United Nations warned on Tuesday that Syrians are "losing hope" as war worsens.
UN relief official John Ging said: "People are losing hope because they just see more violence on the horizon, they just see a deterioration."
The Pope in his Christmas message pleaded for a peaceful solution in Syria.
"Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict," he said.