U.N. chief makes fresh appeal, says Security Council must unite on Syria

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U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon made a fresh appeal to members of the Security Council on Thursday to overcome their divisions and find a solution to the bloody civil war in Syria.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ban said it would be an “abdication” of the world body’s responsibilities if it fails to unify over the crisis that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

Russia and China have used their powers as permanent members of the 15-member Security Council to block three resolutions that would have threatened sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Embattled U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to brief the full council next Tuesday.

“It will be essential for the Security Council to overcome the deadlock, and find the unity that will make meaningful action possible,” Ban told the annual gathering of the global elite in a Swiss ski resort.

“The alternative -- letting the sides fight it out, resigning ourselves to Syria’s destruction with all its regional implications -- is too costly and unacceptable,” he added.

“That would be an abdication of our collective responsibility to protect. The world, and above all the Security Council, must uphold its responsibilities.”

The U.N. secretary general appealed to world powers to increase their funding for aid for people displaced by the 22-month conflict, ahead of a donors conference in Kuwait on January 30.

Ban also renewed his call for all sides to stop arming the conflict's warring parties.

He did not name any countries but Russia and Iran are key arms suppliers to Assad while the Syrian government in turn accuses Qatar, Turkey and other Gulf states of arming the opposition.

The U.N. chief repeated his support for Brahimi, who has struggled to make any headway in the crisis and whose six-month tenure comes up for renewal in February.

“Mr Brahimi enjoys my total support and that of the Arab League Secretary-General, Mr Nabil al-Arabi,” Ban said.

Brahimi has been criticized by Assad’s government and has also failed to bring key players Russia and the United States in line behind a transition plan that could end the 22-month-old conflict.

Assad’s public appearance


Meanwhile, Syria’s embattled President al-Assad attended prayers at a mosque in the capital on Thursday, making a rare public appearance, as his troops blasted rebel districts in the flashpoint city of Homs.

The Syrian National also warned in a statement on Wednesday of a tragedy in the province of Aleppo, where the regime is continuing a series of ethnic cleansing towards Sunni areas, reported Al Arabiya.

Key regional ally Iran, meanwhile, warned that Syria was unlikely to see peace in 2013.

Appearing in public for the first time since a rare speech on January 6, Assad joined prayers at Al-Afram mosque in a northern district of Damascus to mark Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

He was shown in a live television broadcast, flanked by Syria’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country, and the religious endowments minister.

The minister, Mohammed Abdel Settar, earlier called for “million man prayers” at mosques on Friday to appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country, rocked by a deadly anti-regime uprising for the past 22 months.

“Prayers will be held after Friday services in Syria’s mosques with the appeal for a return to security and safety in the homeland,” Abdel Settar said, quoted by state news agency SANA.

Assad’s opponents have traditionally called for anti-regime rallies each Friday, the Muslim day of rest and weekly prayers.

After the brief ceremony in Al-Afram mosque attended by dozens of religious clerics and laymen, the president smiled and seemed at ease as a crowd gathered to offer greetings.

On the battlefield, Syrian troops shelled besieged districts of Homs as clashes raged for a fifth straight day in western areas of the “capital of the revolution.”

Thirty-one soldiers, 16 rebels and 26 civilians have been killed since Sunday in Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and medics across the country for its information.

Among those killed on Thursday in the province of the same name were two children and a woman, the Britain-based monitoring group added.

The Syrian Revolution General Authority, a network of opposition activists on the ground, said regime troops used heavy artillery and clashed with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in a bid to storm the west side of the city.

The regime has “escalated its attack on Homs city and its environs in order to disperse the people on sectarian lines and achieve what it believes will be a final victory,” said the Syrian National Council, a key opposition group.

It “uses the most heinous criminal methods against human beings... shelling with heavy weaponry, blocking off areas to prevent the bare necessities -- food, medicine -- from entering, sending in sectarian militia,” the SNC charged.

It called for the “FSA all over Syria to aid their comrades in Homs with equipment and men” and for aid agencies to give priority to the trapped and displaced residents of Homs.

Elsewhere on Thursday, a day after 109 people died in violence across Syria, air raids struck the embattled town of Daraya near Mazzeh airbase, southwest of Damascus, and rebel-held Yabrud to the northeast, the Observatory said.

The violence raged as Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Danaie-Far, told AFP that Syria was unlikely to see peace this year. “I believe it is far-fetched,” he said.

However, “we have also noted there were some signals in the past one to two months,” he added of remarks by U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that he said Iran interpreted as marking the “end of the process of military options.”

Danaie-Far said he believed that not all rebels fighting Assad’s forces could be called “terrorists,” a term broadly used by the Syrian regime for its opponents.

Tehran has remained steadfast in its backing for Assad's regime since the Syrian uprising erupted in mid-March 2011. More than 60,000 people have since been killed, according to the United Nations.

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