DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Arab League-U.N. envoy held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday as part of his efforts to drum up support for a long-delayed international peace conference aimed at ending the country's intractable civil war, a government official said.
The envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been visiting countries across the Middle East in recent days as he tries to lay the groundwork for the proposed peace talks in Geneva that are tentatively planned for next month. But the prospects for the gathering appear dim — the Syrian opposition remains deeply divided over whether to attend, while the government refuses to sit down with the armed opposition.
The meeting between Brahimi and Assad took place early Wednesday in Damascus, the Syrian government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. It was the first direct contact between the men in 10 months.
After his last trip to Syria in December 2012, Brahimi 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.
The United States and Russia have been trying for months to convene the conference to negotiate a political solution to Syria's civil war. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and forced some 2 million more to flee since it began in March 2011.
The civil war pits a primarily Sunni Muslim rebel movement against a government whose security forces are stacked with members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said rebels killed at least 17 people in an attack on a predominantly Alawite village in the central province of Homs early Wednesday.
Observatory directory Rami Abdurrahman said the opposition fighters killed six government troops at a checkpoint in Shallouh before sweeping into the village itself, where they killed 11 residents.
The SANA state news agency blamed the attack on a "terrorist group," and said 13 locals were killed. The report did not mention any slain soldiers. The government refers to those trying to topple Assad as "terrorists."