Brahimi to Meet Assad as Death Toll Rises

A top United Nations official plans to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today to discuss the 21-month uprising, a day after an opposition group said government warplanes bombed a bakery and killed 94 people.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Special Envoy on Syria, plans to meet Assad to discuss international efforts toward a cease-fire.

Brahimi entered Syria via Lebanon yesterday and traveled to Damascus, said Press TV, the state-run Iranian television network, without citing anyone. Assad won’t stand down and won’t be offered asylum in Russia, according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The civil war has cost more than 44,000 lives since March 2011, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian warplanes hit a bakery in the town of Halfaya near Hama, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e- mailed statement. Abu Al-Qassim al-Hamawi, an activist from Hama, told al-Jazeera television in a telephone interview that hundreds of people had been waiting in line to buy bread. In all, the committees said, 184 people were killed by government forces across the country yesterday.

Negotiations are the only way to halt the increasingly intensive fighting, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Dec. 20. Violence has “increased dramatically” in and around major cities, particularly Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, the commercial hub, the commission said in its latest update. It found numerous incidents of torture, summary executions and attacks on cultural property.

In a bid to revive mediation efforts, Russia has invited Brahimi to Moscow this month, according to Lavrov. It has also asked Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the united Syrian opposition grouping, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, to hold talks with Russian representatives to discuss a peaceful solution, he said.

Assad, whose forces have suffered recent setbacks at the hands of the rebels, last month vowed that he wouldn’t flee. He approved the nation’s 2013 budget of 1.383 trillion pounds ($19.5 billion), Syrian state-TV said yesterday.

Syria is “the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region,” Assad said in an interview with Russian state broadcaster RT last month. “I have to live and die in Syria.”

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