Syria peace envoy Brahimi meets President Assad

James Reynolds reports on the deadly car bomb that exploded in a Christian area of Damascus

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has met Syria's embattled president Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Brahimi, who represents the UN and the Arab League, is in Damascus to press both the government and the rebels to observe a truce over the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

On Friday, he met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition leaders.

Syrian state media report that several people were killed in an explosion in a Christian area of Damascus on Sunday.

A car bomb apparently targeted a police station in the Bab Touma district of the old city.

Analysis

Whilst Mr Ibrahimi was briefing journalists, right after his meeting with President Assad, a car bomb exploded in Bab Touma, a Christian district of the Old City of Damascus that is heavily guarded by the security forces.

There are security checkpoints in almost every street in Damascus and more than one in some areas. This car bomb is seen by many as a breach of the tight security system that is protecting this neighbourhood. Some point the finger at the government.

Opposition groups say more than 100 civilians were killed by government forces on Saturday. The sound of shelling by government forces has intensified in the capital over the last 48 hours.

Mr Ibrahimi also met the main opposition group inside Syria, the National Co-ordination Committee, whose leader Hassan Abdulazim says they also support the ceasefire initiative. Many people are hoping there will be a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday but they doubt President Assad's forces will commit to it.

Ceasefire hopes

In a statement after the talks with Mr Brahimi, Mr Assad said: "Syria is open to any sincere efforts for a political solution to the Syrian crisis based on respect for Syria's sovereignty and the rejection of outside intervention."

Mr Brahimi said he had proposed a three-day ceasefire over the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which which begins on Friday and lasts over the weekend, and was waiting for a response from Mr Assad's government.

He told reporters that some members of the opposition whom he had met were open to the idea of a ceasefire only if the Syrian government committed to it.

"All the opposition members we met outside the country as well as the officials in the neighbouring countries said that it is a good idea," he said.

"If we achieve this ceasefire during the al-Adha holiday and maintain it, we can try and build on it. If it does not happen, then we will keep trying and we hope we can find another way to bring relief to the Syrian people."

A ceasefire that started on 12 April was soon broken and more violence prevailed.

Heavy clashes were reported on Saturday on the main road between Damascus and Aleppo, particularly around the town of Maarat al-Numan.

BBC map

The town has been in rebel hands for more than a week and is seen as strategically important to maintaining a supply route between Syria's largest city Aleppo and the capital Damascus.

For much of the past 18 months, rebel groups have been fighting against Mr Assad's government and at least 30,000 people are believed to have been killed.

Repeated efforts by the international community to find a diplomatic solution have foundered because of a deep divide at the UN Security Council.

In videos posted online, one rebel group said it was willing to respect a ceasefire given certain conditions, while other groups have not made a decision.

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