Brahimi plans Iran trip to discuss Syria conflict with Rouhani

Also on Friday, the Syrian foreign minister, who has been part Syria’s delegation at past peace talks, is rushed to a Beirut hospital to undergo treatment for blocked coronary arteries.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi talks to the media after briefing a Security Council meeting on Syria. Stan Honda / AFP / March 13, 2014
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi talks to the media after briefing a Security Council meeting on Syria. Stan Honda / AFP / March 13, 2014

TEHRAN // The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will travel to Iran on Sunday for meetings with senior officials top officials about the conflict.

Mr Brahimi was expected to meet the president, Hassan Rouhani, and the foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, said the deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian.

Mr Brahimi is seeking to gather support for a third round of peace talks to end the war, which began three years ago this month. More than 140,000 people have been killed.

The Syrian information minister, Omran Al Zoubi, on Friday blasted Mr Brahimi for saying he warned the Syrian government if it goes ahead with scheduled presidential elections, the opposition will probably refuse to participate in a new round of peace talks.

Mr Al Zoubi told Syrian state television that Mr Brahimi “forgot that he is a mediator between the legitimate Syrian government and the opposition” and he should respect his job as a mediator.

“This interference in Syrian affairs is totally rejected,” Mr Al Zoubi said. “Brahimi has no right to implement America’s policy in Syria and the decision to hold elections is decided by Syrian authorities and no one can stop these constitutional steps in the country.”

Syrian officials say the presidential elections will be held on time, and the president, Bashar Al Assad, has suggested he would run again. The poll must be held between 60 and 90 days before Mr Al Assad’s second seven-year term ends on July 17.

On Thursday, the country’s parliament approved an electoral law opening the door — at least in theory — to other potential contenders besides Mr Al Assad.

Also on Friday, the Syrian foreign minister, who has been part Syria’s delegation at the peace talks, was rushed to a Beirut hospital and was undergoing treatment for blocked coronary arteries.

Walid Al Moallem, who is in his 70s, is known for his hard-line stance against the opposition and is a close confidant of Mr Al Assad.

Mr Al Moallem was brought to the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, said Lebanese security officials.

The Lebanese MP Assem Qanso, who visited Mr Al Moallem on Friday, said Syria’s top diplomat is “in stable condition” and would undergo an operation.

“Some of his arteries are blocked. He will undergo an operation and God willing it will be good. It is not dangerous,” Mr Qanso, a close ally of the Syrian government, said.

The security officials said that Mr Al Moallem walked slowly and unassisted when he arrived at the hospital.

Lebanese police and plainclothes officers deployed outside the hospital in Beirut.

A career diplomat, Mr Al Moallem served as ambassador to Washington for nine years, starting in 1990 during Syria’s on-and-off peace talks with Israel.

He was appointed foreign minister in 2006, and he has been one of the staunchest defenders of the government’s violent crackdown on its opponents since the uprising against Mr Al Assad began in March 2011.

Mr Al Moallem led the Syrian government delegation to United Nations-hosted peace talks with the opposition in Switzerland this year. At the opening session, the UN chief Ban Ki-moon repeatedly asked Mr Al Moallem to step away from the podium when he exceeded his time limit while giving his speech.

“You live in New York. I live in Syria,” Mr Al Moallem snapped at the time, ignoring Mr Ban’s appeal to conclude his opening remarks.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television reported that troops ambushed a group of gunmen near the town of Talkalakh near the border with Lebanon, killing about two dozen of them. It showed footage of dead men, some with rifles next to their bodies.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that members of Al Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) completed their withdrawal from the northwestern province of Idlib and mountainous areas of the coastal region of Latakia.

It said the gunmen moved to the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa.

ISIL fighters have been fighting members of other rival groups in northern Syria since early January. Activists say the clashes killed more than 3,300 people.

Syria’s uprising, which began with largely peace protests, has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones. Islamist extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line Al Qaeda-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West’s support for the rebellion to overthrow Mr Al Assad.

The conflict also has affected Syria’s neighbours. In Lebanon, five people have been killed in clashes since Thursday in the northern city of Tripoli, the state National News Agency said.

Violence related to the war in Syria frequently breaks out between two impoverished rival neighbourhoods in Tripoli, one dominated by Sunnis and the other by members of Mr Al Assad’s Alawite sect.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Published: March 14, 2014 04:00 AM

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