Diplomats from the major powers, along with key Arab governments and Turkey, will meet at the United Nations in New York on Friday to discuss what comes next.
The international mediation effort, such as it is, at least seems likely to have a new figurehead; Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran of troubles in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, has agreed to take over as peacebroker on Syria but with an altered mandate, U.N. sources said.
Envoys said he had demanded “strong support” from the Security Council and one source said that Brahimi would not continue with Annan’s “failed approach”.
U.N. peacekeeping official Mulet said: “The situation on the ground is extremely difficult. But the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we should not face that challenge of trying to open those political spaces in the future.”
In the meantime, the price being paid by the Syrian people was underlined by the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, who said during a visit to the country that as many of 2.5 million people, about one tenth of the population, were in need of aid.
Across Syria’s borders, the conflict is rippling out along the sectarian and ethnic faultlines of the Middle East.
Long a rare Arab ally of Tehran, Assad depends increasingly for support on his Alawite minority, whose faith is an offshoot of the Shi’ite form of Islam practiced in Iran. Against him are ranged insurgents largely drawn from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, who have backing, if largely rhetorical so far, from the West, as well as Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf and Turkey.
Gulf Arab states told their citizens to leave Lebanon after a local Shi’ite clan kidnapped more than 20 people in Beirut and initially threatened to seize more Arab nationals.