Syrian troops retake Christian town from jihadists
By Albert Aji, APDAMASCUS, Syria--Syrian government forces retook a Christian town north of Damascus from al-Qaida-linked rebels who seized control of part of it a week ago, touching off fierce clashes, state media and opposition activists said.
October 29, 2013, 12:22 am TWN
The recapture of Sadad came as the U.N.-Arab League envoy arrived in Syria on his first trip to the country in almost a year.
Lakhdar Brahimi is trying to prepare a peace conference on Syria supposed to take place in Geneva next month. But it's unclear if the gathering will take place as planned, since Syria's warring factions refuse to face each other at the negotiating table.
The United States and Russia have been trying for months to convene the conference to negotiate a political solution to Syria's civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed and some 2 million have fled the country since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
After his last trip to Syria in December 2012, Brahimi had angered Syrian authorities when he said that 40 years of rule by the family of President Bashar Assad was “too long.” Syrian officials then accused him of being biased.
This time, Brahimi visited several countries in the region, including Iran. He said Saturday that the participation of Tehran — a key backer of Assad — at a Syria peace conference was “necessary.” On Monday, Brahimi travelled from Tehran by private jet to Beirut, then continued by road to Damascus.
In the Lebanese capital, he would not speak to reporters. “I will speak when I return,” he said.
Brahimi was received in Damascus by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad. During his visit, expected to last several days, Brahimi will meet Syrian officials as well as members of local opposition groups. It is not clear if he will meet Assad.
Assad told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV last week that Brahimi “should abide by his mission and not go out of this framework.” Assad added that Brahimi “is a mediator and the mediator should be neutral and stand in the middle.”