Brahimi and Maliki Confer on Syria (Al-Monitor, 16/10/2012)

United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi discussed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the crisis in Syria. According to sources in Baghdad, Brahimi came out of the meeting with no hope of a possible Iraqi role in ending the bloodshed in Syria.

Izzat Shabandar, an MP from the State of Law Coalition headed by Maliki, told Azzaman yesterday [Oct. 14] that Brahimi expressed to Maliki — whom he met yesterday in Baghdad — his conviction of the need for change rather than reform in Syria. He also told Maliki that President Bashar al-Assad has now been removed from the change equation and that change [must be achieved] through dialogue, not fighting.

According to Shabandar, Maliki responded to Brahimi by saying that dialogue without Assad would mean preparing for the post-Assad era, and would thus be a one-sided dialogue, [almost] equivalent to no dialogue.

Shabandar said that Brahimi listened silently to Maliki’s point of view and made no comment on the issue. He quoted Brahimi as having told Maliki that he will ask both sides to stop fighting during the [Muslim holiday of] Eid al-Adha, especially given the fact that both parties are not opposed to the idea, but stipulate that the other take the initiative.

Also, according to Shabandar, Brahimi briefed Maliki on the results of his visits to Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, where he met with hundreds of Syrian opposition members. Brahimi told Maliki that he no longer feels frustration and uncertainty about the [possible] success of his mission, adding that he believes in dialogue [as a means] of resolving the crisis.

Shabandar said that Brahimi is moving closer to the Iraqi initiative, considering that he said that change comes through dialogue, not fighting.

Iraq has urged Brahimi to act quickly in order to preserve the unity of Syria and the security of the region, expressing concern over the repercussions of the [Syrian] conflict, whose continuation would only further complicate the situation.

Brahimi — who met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Deputy Prime MInister Hussain al-Shahristani — said that he discussed in Baghdad the many concerns and problems in Syria and the threat they pose to the Syrian people, their neighbors and world peace.

In a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Brahimi said that “despite the difficulties and concerns … we must try to help the Syrian people and cooperate with them to solve problems. [We should also do the same] among ourselves — and by that I mean the United Nations, world countries and neighboring countries.”

Brahimi announced that he will be traveling to Cairo after Baghdad and will visit Syria within a few days.

“Let’s see what the situation is like [in Syria], not only concerning [the position of] the government but also that of the opposition.” he said.

An AFP correspondent who accompanied the Syrian regime forces as they stormed the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, described the damages inflicted on it. He said that the corridor in the northern part of the mosque had been destroyed and its roof burned. The corridor’s contents, including books, seats and chandeliers, were also burned to the ground.

The AFP correspondent added that the Adhan [call to prayer] room in the mosque was destroyed, and that burned carpets, broken glass and empty bullet casings were scattered on the ground.

Syrian state TV broadcast pictures from inside the mosque showing burned and torn copies of the Koran. A Syrian TV report said that three hairs and part of a tooth [said to have belonged to] the Prophet Mohammad — which had been kept in a box placed in a small shrine inside the mosque — were stolen. The box was also broken.

European Union sources said that EU foreign ministers, who met yesterday in Brussels, decided to ban Syrian Airlines planes from EU airports, as part of additional sanctions on Syria.

The sources, who asked not to be named, told Azzaman: “The resolution issued by EU foreign ministers calls on all [parties] whose presence jeopardizes a political transition process to leave Syria, noting also that Syrian President Assad has no place in the future of Syria.”

The EU resolution called on the Syrian authorities to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of neighboring countries, urging the parties to the Syrian crisis not to escalate tensions.

The new sanctions, which were approved during an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, includes freezing the accounts of 28 Syrian officials involved in the policy of violence against the Syrian people and banning them from visiting EU countries.

The bank accounts of two companies in EU countries, said to have supplied arms and funds to the Syrian regime, were also frozen.

In related news, the Israeli government announced the designation of territory near the border with Syria to accommodate [potential Syrian] refugees.

Israeli radio reported that the Israeli army, in coordination with the UN, has designated territory near the border with Syria to accommodate a potential influx of Syrian refugees who might flee to Israel, noting that the move aims to prevent a [potential] spillover of the Syrian crisis into Israel.

Syrian opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said that Syrians absolutely refuse to seek refuge in Israel, saying that the reports aired on Israeli Radio fell into the category of political games and will lead to nowhere.

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