DAMASCUS // Syria yesterday accused the joint UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of "flagrant bias" against it, a day ahead of talks he was to hold with top US and Russian officials on the country's civil war.
The broadside against the veteran Algerian diplomat, who has tried since September to quell the violence in Syria, revealed rising diplomatic tensions over Syria's 22 months of violence.
It came in reaction to Mr Brahimi's comments that a three-stage road map proposed last Sunday by president Bashar Al Assad to negotiate a "political solution" with approved elements of the opposition was "one-sided".
"Syria is shocked by the statements of Lakhdar Brahimi, who has overstepped his mandate and exhibited a flagrant bias for those parties known to be conspiring against Syria and its people," the Syrian foreign ministry said.
Mr Brahimi said Mr Al Assad needed to acknowledge that "there is a problem, a very, very serious problem between Syrians, and that Syrians have got to talk to one another to solve it".
Even more damaging to Mr Al Assad and his backers, the envoy said: "In Syria in particular, what people are saying is that one family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long."
Syrian state media led the first attack on Mr Brahimi, with the pro-government Al Watan newspaper calling him a "pawn" of the West.
The scathing exchange appeared to undercut further any prospect of international diplomacy working on Mr Al Assad to calm the ongoing war, in which more than 60,000 have died, according to the UN.
Meanwhile, Mr Al Assad's key ally Iran was pursuing its separate diplomatic track in support of Damascus, with foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Cairo yesterday for talks on the conflict with Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Any solution should be worked out among Syrians, without "foreign intervention", Mr Salehi said.
Inside Syria, continued fighting drowned out the diplomatic tussling. On Wednesday, 57 people were killed in violence across Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medical personnel on the ground.
Also yesterday, Iran's official news agency said 48 captives held for more than five months were returned to Tehran after being freed by Syrian rebels in the first major prisoner swap of the civil war.