Policy: National Security

Syrian official welcomes UN mediator's resignation

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Photo - FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2014 file photo, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Brahimi will resign as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria after a nearly two-year effort that failed to bring peace to the war-ravaged country, the U.N. chief announced Tuesday, May 13, 2014. He will step down May 31. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2014 file photo, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Brahimi will resign as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria after a nearly two-year effort that failed to bring peace to the war-ravaged country, the U.N. chief announced Tuesday, May 13, 2014. He will step down May 31. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)
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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A Syrian official on Wednesday welcomed the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi as the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, calling for the appointment of a "more objective" mediator.

Fayez Sayegh, a member of parliament and a senior member of President Bashar Assad's ruling Baath Party, described Brahimi as a biased man who interfered in Syria's internal affairs.

Sayegh spoke Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria's capital. It was the first reaction from Damascus to Brahimi's resignation, announced a day earlier by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Brahimi, a veteran, 80-year-old Algerian diplomat known for his patience, tried unsuccessfully for nearly two years to mediate an end to Syria's civil war.

His resignation marks a second failure by the U.N. and the Arab League to end Syria's worsening conflict and highlights the deep divisions among the Syrian parties and key countries on how to restore peace. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan resigned from the same job in August 2012 after failing to broker a cease-fire as the country descended into civil war.

Ban said Wednesday he received Brahimi's resignation with reluctance.

"I am very much concerned about continuing violence and without any prospect at this time for political solution. We cannot go on like this," he told reporters at a news conference in Stockholm.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Wednesday he "deeply regretted" Brahimi's resignation, which he said reflected the failure of the international community — represented by the U.N. Security Council — to assume responsibility to stop the fighting in Syria.

Brahimi recently criticized Assad's intention to hold presidential elections amid the war, saying it would hamper prospects for a political solution that the country so urgently needs. His comments angered the Syrian government, which intends to hold a vote on June 3.

Speaking at the U.N. on Wednesday, Ban said he would appoint a successor to Brahimi but would take time to find "the right person."

Sayegh, the Syrian official, said Brahimi had a habit of interfering in Syrian internal affairs.

"When an international mediator, like Brahimi, intervenes in an affair that is of concern for the Syrian people, this means that he has taken the side of the other party," he said.

"Brahimi was since the very beginning biased," he said, calling on the U.N. to appoint "another mediator who should be more objective."

Syria's conflict began with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms and transformed into an armed uprising and eventually a civil war following a ferocious military crackdown on protesters. More than 150,000 people have died since March 2011, and hundreds of thousands of people have been wounded.

On Wednesday, a Syrian opposition watchdog group said nearly 850 people have died in Syrian government prisons and detentions centers this year, many of them as a result of torture.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they include 15 children and six women.

It said some 18,000 people among those held by the government in the past three years had disappeared, and many were feared dead. The group relies on a wide network of activists on the ground across Syria to document the conflict. The information could not be independently verified.

Also Wednesday, the U.S.-based advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights said in a report that Syrian forces were systematically attacking the health care system in opposition-held areas, resulting in the death of more than 460 health professionals and widespread destruction to hospitals and clinics. Syrian rebels also have cut off water to government-controlled parts of the northern city of Aleppo.

During fighting Wednesday in Syria, a massive rebel bombing struck a military base in a northern area known as Wadi Deif, the Observatory and a pro-rebel media group called the Local Coordination Committee reported. There was no immediate word on casualties. The Observatory said rebels placed a large amount of explosives in a tunnel under the base. Syrian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut, Malin Rising in Stockholm and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

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