UN envoy meets with Syrian president amid allegations of poison gas deployment

Monday, December 24, 2012 - 9:00pm

With the carnage in Syria showing no sign of abating, U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Monday with Syria's president in hopes of making headway in ending the country's civil war.

"We have exchanged opinions about the possible steps that can be taken in the future," Brahimi told reporters after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.

"The president spoke about his view regarding this situation. I also talked about the meetings I had abroad in several cities with various officials in the region and outside of the region. I also talked about what steps which I see appropriate to be taken to help the Syrian people to get out of this crisis," he said.

"The situation in Syria remains worrying. We hope that all parties embrace the solution which the Syrian people want and aspire to have."

Monday's was the latest in several visits Brahimi has made to Damascus since August, when he was appointed joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria.

In October, he brokered a cease-fire between the government and rebels, but it disintegrated within hours when heavy fighting erupted once again.

Opposition activists say more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in the past two months.

The bloodshed continued on Monday with at least 94 people, including 15 children, killed across the country, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Dissidents in the city of Homs said six rebel fighters died Sunday night after inhaling a white gas that had no smell, according to Rami Abdulrahman, director of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Gas was released and spread in the area after members of the regime forces threw canister bombs," Abdulrahman said Monday. "... The activists said that everyone who (inhaled) the gas felt severe headaches and some had seizures."

The observatory called for the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate the case.

CNN cannot independently confirm government or opposition reports from Syria, as the government has restricted access by journalists.

The latest reports of violence come a day after more than 100 people who had been without bread for days were killed when warplanes bombed a bakery in the western village of Halfaya, opposition activists said Sunday.

An activist who oversaw many of the burials said at least 109 people died. The hospitals could not handle all the wounded, Hassan Al-Rajb said.

"There were dozens of dead thrown in the street," opposition activist Mahmoud Alawy said. "The residents were shocked and in a state of fear. It was chaotic."

Videos posted on social media showed the purported aftermath of the attack. Many bodies had limbs apparently blown off, and others lay bloody in the streets and in rubble strewn over a sidewalk. Uniformed rebels from the Free Syrian Army and civilians scrambled to pull survivors from the wreckage.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the attack on Halfay and accused them of having shot footage of the incident and blamed the government for the attack.

Halfaya had lacked the ingredients for bread for about a week until Saturday, when an aid group delivered provisions, Alawy said. Hundreds of people lined up at the bakery Sunday.

Alawy said the government has been shelling gatherings of people in recent days, since the Free Syrian Army liberated the town from Syrian government forces.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it was "stunned" by the report of the killings, particularly of women and children lined up for bread. "These horrific images offend human sensibilities and our concept of civilization," it said. "It is imperative to put an end to such violence."

Many Syrians face shortages of food and other necessities as winter sets in. The United Nations estimates that more than 2.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.


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