WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday threw its support behind a U.N.-led proposal for a brief cease-fire in Syria during a Muslim holiday next week, the first significant initiative put forth under a renewed diplomatic push.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat serving as the U.N.’s new special envoy to Syria, arrived in Damascus on Friday to seek support for the plan, which calls for both government and rebel forces to lay down their arms from Oct. 26 through 28.
The idea is not only to allow Syrians to enjoy a peaceful Eid al Adha, an important Islamic holiday, but also to carve an opening for negotiations to end the civil war that that has killed more than 30,000 people in 19 months.
The plan already had received support from Turkey, which backs the rebels, and Iran, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Arab League chief Nabil el Araby and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a joint endorsement of the plan and implored the warring parties to observe it with “a cessation of all violence in all its forms during the period of Eid al-Adha.”
The United States chimed in Friday afternoon, with a statement in support.
“We urge the Syrian government to stop all military operations and call on opposition forces to follow suit,” the State Department release said. “The Syrian government should also permit full and immediate humanitarian access to districts that have been under siege and allow vital supplies to reach people in need.”
Brahimi recognized earlier this week that a three-day cease-fire would be “a small stride.” But he said it might lead to talks “about withdrawing heavy weapons and halting the flow of arms from outside” and enable a “political solution to the crisis.”
Winning even a brief respite from the bloodshed might help Western powers take Brahimi seriously, when skepticism abounds as to how to bring back to the dialog groups that are now even more bloodied and hardened. The U.N.’s previously brokered cease-fire in April never took full effect, though the number of casualties reported by Syrian human rights groups dropped during both April and May before rebels declared the cease-fire over. The monthly death toll quickly reached record levels after the cease-fire ended.
Reaction to the plan was mixed in Syria, where violence continues.
Some rebels embraced Brahimi’s plan, including an alliance of opposition commanders who recorded a YouTube video saying they’d accept the cease-fire proposal on condition that the regime lift the siege on the city of Homs and release prisoners, especially women.
Other opposition forces, however, rejected the proposal as just one more ploy to buy time for the regime to rest before unleashing another punishing campaign against rebellious areas, according to news reports.
Assad’s regime appeared lukewarm toward the idea. A state-run newspaper, al Thawra, said in an editorial this week that the rebels’ lack of central authority was the biggest obstacle to a truce, according to an AP translation. It was unclear whether, after Brahimi’s visit Friday, Syrian officials had softened their stance.
“There is the state, represented by the government and the army on one front,” the paper said in the editorial, “but who is on the other front?”