BEIRUT

Middle East

Brahimi tells Security Council: Syria situation hopeless

In this image released by the United Nations, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi speaks to the press on April 19, 2013, at the United Natuions in New York. (AFP PHOTO / UNITED NATIONS / Rick Bajornas)

BEIRUT: U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the situation in Syria as “hopeless” in a recent closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council, according to a document leaked Tuesday.

He added that dialogue was impossible when all warring parties were confident of victory.

During his briefing Friday, the text of which was published by Lebanon’s Elnashra in full Tuesday, Brahimi acknowledged that the growing regional dimensions of the conflict increasingly made it resemble a proxy war.

However, he added, “[it] remains essentially a savage civil war between Syrians, and the sectarian dimensions of the crisis are perhaps more important to watch and understand than the participation of foreigners in the struggle.”

Outlining the recent attention to Al-Qaeda’s alignment with the jihadis opposition Nusra Front, he said he could not verify the accuracy of reports that the number of foreigners fighting alongside the opposition had dramatically increased, citing wildly varying reported figures.

“Four months ago, a reliable source close to the regime estimated the number of foreign fighters at a few hundred men and the Nusra Front at 3,000-5,000. Another source now speaks of no less than 30,000-40,000 foreign fighters,” Brahimi said.

Brahimi also pointed to a foreign presence on the government side, saying both officials in Iran and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah had confirmed their role in the conflict, but said it was equally difficult to assess their level of participation.

“Some [say] that Hezbollah is only protecting religious Shiite shrines and the Iranians [are] providing a few military advisers,” he said.

But there are “others claiming that the well-coordinated Hezbollah-Iran presence counts thousands of fighters actively engaged alongside government forces. Plus advisers helping the regime form what they call the ‘People’s Army,’ a decentralized militia force acting locally to replace or support the shadowy and much feared shabbiha (pro-regime loyalist) gangs.”

Brahimi reiterated his preference for a political solution to the conflict, which he said should be Syrian-led and based on the June 30 Geneva declaration. However, he was pessimistic that dialogue could take place while each warring party was convinced of victory.

“Is it going to be a deadly destructive fight to the finish because each party and its supporters are convinced that the total victory is not only possible but certain for them? Or are these parties ... going to agree at long last that there is no military solution to this conflict, and that a serious negotiation is urgently needed to work out a political solution?” he asked the Security Council.

He said while President Bashar Assad’s regime was “not quite ready to listen,” the opposition had failed to unite and form a credible political program.

Brahimi commended an initiative by Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, who resigned Sunday as the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, to embark on dialogue with the regime. The envoy said that notion should be developed further.

However, in a reference to previously reported frustrations with the Arab League, Brahimi criticized the “language” of the league resolution of March 6. The resolution asked the coalition to form an executive body to represent Syrians at the league and at other international agencies until elections are held in Syria.

Brahimi said the resolution meant the Arab League considers the Geneva process “obsolete” and that “no dialogue or negotiations are possible or necessary.”

Brahimi last week denied rumors he was close to resigning from his post in frustration over the Arab League and the Security Council’s inaction, but admitted to Reuters he considered quitting on a daily basis.

He apologized Friday for his lack of success in resolving the conflict, saying he was “personally, profoundly sorry that my own efforts have produced so little,” but appealed to Security Council members to overcome their differences and act in unity on the Syria conflict.

He described the situation in Syria as “totally hopeless, with no light to be seen at the end of a long tunnel Syria is lost in.”

“Might it be said ... that the solution of that war is in your hands, members of the Security Council?”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2013, on page 8.

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