U.N. envoy to Assad: Change is urgently needed

In this image made from video and accessed Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, a Free Syrian Army fighter calls out to comrades as another fighter fires at Syrian Army positions in Aleppo, Syria.
AP Photo via AP video

(AP) BEIRUT - The U.N.'s new envoy to Syria said on Saturday that President Bashar Assad's regime should realize that the need for change was both "urgent" and "necessary" and that it must meet the "legitimate" demands of the Syrian people.

Lakhdar Brahimi's comments in an interview with al-Arabiya television came as Syrian warplanes and ground forces pounded the country's largest city, Aleppo, with bombs and mortar rounds while soldiers clashed with rebels in the narrow streets of its old quarter, according to activists.

The latest violence shows that government troops are still struggling to regain full control of the city from the lightly-armed rebels nearly five weeks after they stormed their way into it in a surprise offensive. Activists said rebels also captured an air defense facility in the east of the country near the border with Iraq.

"The Syrian government realizes more than me the extent of the suffering endured by the Syrian people," Brahimi told al-Arabia on his first day as the new U.N. envoy in Syria, replacing Kofi Annan who quit after his six-point plan including an April 12 cease-fire failed to stop the bloodshed.

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Speaking in New York, he said: "The need for change is urgent and necessary. The Syrian people must be satisfied and their legitimate demands are met." A former Algerian foreign minister and a seasoned international trouble shooter, Brahimi said he enjoyed the "full and clear" support of the U.N. Security Council.

He also called for an end to the violence but acknowledged that he does not have a set of preconceived ideas on how to resolve the Syrian conflict. "We will try to overcome the obstacles that Kofi Annan faced," he added.

The Syrian conflict has its roots in mostly peaceful street protests that started in March last year. It has since morphed into a civil war, with at least 20,000 people killed so far, according to rights activists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in Aleppo were concentrated in several tense neighborhoods -- Hanano, Bustan al-Qasr, Sukkari and Maysar. It reported injuries and damage to buildings.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said the government was making heavy use of warplanes in attacking rebel areas.

An Associated Press Television video showed rebel fighters, some in civilian clothes, in the street trading fire with government troops.