10 Jan 2013

Syrian crisis must be solved this year - envoy

4:21 pm on 10 January 2013

The international envoy for Syria has warned the crisis in the country must be solved this year.

Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that a speech by President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday was a "lost opportunity" to resolve the crisis.

Mr Brahimi told the BBC that the address called for a repeat of previous initiatives which had not worked, and had been sectarian and one-sided.

"What you need is reaching out and recognising that there is ... a very serious problem between Syrians, and that Syrians have got to talk to one another to solve it," Mr Brahimi added.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Brahimi admitted that the positions of the government and the opposition meant that, at the moment, there was no political process.

He said he would now focus on resolving differences between the main outside parties and try to work from the outside to try to bring Syrians to accept there could only be a political solution.

Interfax news agency reports Mr Brahimi will meet US and Russian diplomats in Geneva on Friday.

Mr Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, also confirmed reports that Mr Assad told him when they last met on 24 December that he hoped to run in the next presidential election scheduled for 2014.

However, Mr Brahimi said this was too far away and that people believed one family ruling a country for 40 years was "a little bit too long".

Rebels free Iranian hostages

Rebels have freed 48 Iranian hostages in Syria in exchange for the release of 2130 civilian prisoners held by the Syrian government.

The rebels claimed the Iranians had been assisting the Syrian military, but Iran insisted they were Shia pilgrims. They were captured in August while visiting the Sayyida Zainab shrine south of Damascus.

The head of a Turkish aid agency which helped broker the deal said they were being taken to Damascus accompanied by Iranian and Syrian officials.

Humanitarian Relief Foundation head Bulent Yildirim said the release of the civilian prisoners has begun in return. They include 73 women, four Turks and a Palestinian.