Syria envoy seeks peace as clashes rage

Tue Dec 25, 2012 12:31pm EST
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By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi pursued mediation efforts in Damascus on Tuesday, but there was no pause in the bloodletting as Syrian Christians marked a bleak Christmas Day with prayers for peace.

"We are here in a cave that symbolizes Syria right now," said a priest standing beside a nativity scene in a grotto.

"It is cold here but the door is open to all refugees," he told Syrian state TV. "Amid the hunger, cold and deprivation, we still have hope for peace and love for our country."

More than 44,000 Syrians have been killed since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 21 months ago, igniting an increasingly sectarian conflict that broadly pits a Sunni Muslim majority against Assad's Alawite minority.

Christians, many of whom have been reluctant to join what they see as an Islamist-tinged insurgency, feel threatened.

Bishop John Kawak, speaking on state TV, said the Christmas holiday was "a symbol for the rebirth of the nation". He condemned "terrorism", the government's term for the rebellion.

Brahimi met some dissidents who are tolerated by Assad but rejected by the mainstream opposition and by rebels fighting to oust him, a day after he held talks with the Syrian president.

There was no word on any progress in the U.N.-Arab League' envoy's drive to end violence that has intensified in recent months as Assad uses airpower and artillery against rebel gains.   Continued...

A woman carries bread in Aleppo December 25, 2012. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman