Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi will take over as Joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria at the end of this month, the United Nations confirmed Friday, as Syrian government forces carried out increased airstrikes in multiple rebel strongholds across the country.
Mr. Brahimi will take over the role from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said he would step down at the end of August when the UN mandate in Syria expired.
"The Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi's willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's spokesman said Friday.
"The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to reiterate his deepest gratitude to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his selfless efforts and contributions to the search for peace in Syria," the spokesman added.
Annan's six-point peace plan, which he had been struggling to implement for five months, failed after initial signs President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian rebels would accept ceasefire terms.
Upon announcing he would step down from the position, Annan said he had no chance of success if he wanted peace more than the parties involved. He also made it clear the UN did not give him a strong enough mandate to carry out the peacekeeping plan.
As violence in the country continued, most of the 300 UN peacekeeping officers and personnel had been forced to leave for security concerns even before major steps to the plan's implementation could be made.
By the end of August, the UN's mandate for peacekeeping will expire and the organization has made clear it will recall its remaining officers on security concerns at that time. Ban has confirmed a small UN liaison office will be all that remains in the war-torn country.
The United States also welcomed Brahimi's appointment. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear in a Friday statement the U.S. would back any steps necessary to support the new envoy.
"The United States stands ready to support you and secure a lasting peace that upholds the legitimate aspirations for a representative government of the people of Syria," Clinton said.
The White House also weighed in, stating, "we need to hear more from the U.N. on the mandate of Mr. Brahimi's new position," tacitly implying Brahimi may be give the same weak mandate as Annan.
When pushed to clarify this stance by a reporter, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, "there were concerns that we had expressed that the Assad regime wasn't living up to the commitments that he'd made to Mr. Annan. That certainly is true."
"But I think this is actually a genuine interest in hearing what kind of mandate Mr. Brahimi will be given by the U.N.," he added.
The doubt by some Syria watchers that Brahimi's mission could be any different than Annan's was bolstered by a warmer than usual welcome of the Algerian diplomat's appointment by the Syrian regime.
Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said in a statement the Assad regime "supports Brahimi's demand to get united support from the Security Council to carry out his mission without obstacles."
The announcement of Brahimi's appointment and Syria's response came the day before shelling by government forces in rebel-controlled areas increased. On Saturday, Assad's army carried out airstrikes against rebel-controlled areas in Azaz, Daraa, Aleppo and Damascus.
Over 17,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since fighting began between Assad forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army 17 months ago, according to UN estimates. An additional 170,000 Syrian refugees - at least 12,000 in the last three days - have fled into Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: email@example.com