Iran and Turkey Join Syria Peace Envoy in Call for Truce
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran declared support on Wednesday for the new Syria peace envoy’s cease-fire proposal, joining Turkey in a rare moment of accord between two of the regional powers backing opposite sides in the 19-month conflict that has pitted the Syrian government against an array of armed opponents.
But the Syrian government expressed skepticism that rebels would honor a cease-fire, and the peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents both the United Nations and the Arab League, said a temporary halt to the fighting would constitute only a tiny step toward resolving the conflict, which has left more than 20,000 people dead.
A veteran Algerian statesman who has been on the job for less than two months, Mr. Brahimi has spent the last several days conferring with Middle East leaders about ways to break the Syria impasse. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned in frustration at the end of August after his proposed peace plan slipped into seeming irrelevance.
On Monday, Mr. Brahimi proposed a cease-fire during the three-day Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, which begins Oct. 26, hoping that a religious reprieve universally respected by Muslims could be the basis not only for a pause in the fighting but perhaps the beginnings of a dialogue in Syria.
Sunni Muslims constitute most of the Syrian population and virtually the entire insurgency, while President Bashar al-Assad is a member of the ruling Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot. The country is home to a variety of other religious minorities, including a significant Christian population.
Both Turkey and Iran publicly endorsed Mr. Brahimi’s effort on Wednesday. Those endorsements were significant because Iran is the most influential regional supporter of Mr. Assad’s, while Turkey supports Mr. Assad’s armed adversaries, is host to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and has repeatedly called on Mr. Assad to resign.
In the past few weeks Turkey also has banned Syrian aircraft, moved armed forces close to its 550-mile border with Syria and engaged Syrian gunners in sporadic cross-border shelling, raising fears that the conflict in Syria could turn into a regional war.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who met this week with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a regional summit meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, was quoted by Iran’s state-run news media on Wednesday as saying he supported the Syria truce proposal and “any group that derives power through war and means to continue war has no future.”
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was quoted by the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency of Turkey as saying a holiday cease-fire was desirable but that any longer-term truce would require “certain measures for its sustainability.”
Mr. Brahimi, who was visiting Lebanon on Wednesday, called on the Syrian government to back the cease-fire, saying he had guarantees from rebel leaders that they would observe it if the government acted first. But a Syrian government newspaper expressed doubt that insurgent units, who lack a unified command, would or could simultaneously uphold a cease-fire.
In Damascus, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, said in a statement released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency that his government would welcome any “constructive initiative” from Mr. Brahimi, who was widely expected to travel to Syria.
But the very modesty of Mr. Brahimi’s proposal seemed to be an indication that in recent months the conflict has drifted further from resolution. Random responses from ordinary Syrians reached by telephone seemed to reflect a similar assessment.
A resident in the embattled northern city of Aleppo, who gave only a nickname, Abu al-Hassan, said he believed neither side was willing to stop shooting. “What does this even mean?” he asked. “That instead of 40 martyrs we will have 20 martyrs a day?”
A Syrian businessman based in Damascus said Mr. Brahimi’s efforts would be better spent persuading the Syrian authorities to release the thousands of people arrested or abducted by pro-government militias during the conflict. “We got used to the gunfire — no need to cease it — but we will never get used to the absence of the detained and kidnapped people,” he said.