Envoy to Syria Warns of Slide to Hellish Fiefs With Huge Toll

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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, drew a grim portrait on Sunday of the country's future in the absence of a political solution, warning of a state carved up by warlords and a death toll that would rapidly surge, while conceding that there was little sign that the antagonists intended to negotiate.

At a news conference at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Mr. Brahimi said the violence, which has already killed tens of thousands of people, could claim 100,000 lives over the next year.

"People are talking about a divided Syria being split into a number of small states like Yugoslavia," he said.

"This is not what is going to happen. What will happen is Somalization -- warlords," Mr. Brahimi said, according to a transcript of his remarks. Without a peace deal, he added, Syria would be "transformed into hell."

Mr. Brahimi's comments reflected a deepening pessimism after his apparently unsuccessful attempt over the past week to mediate the crisis by shuttling between opposition figures and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The envoy indicated that Mr. Assad had made no response to peace proposals, which included a plan to create a transitional government. In another sign of the impasse, the leader of a large opposition coalition all but rebuffed an invitation by Russia, one of Syria's closest allies, to discuss solutions to the crisis.

On Saturday, nearly a week after Mr. Brahimi traveled to Damascus, the Syrian capital, Russia's foreign minister said there was "no possibility" of persuading Mr. Assad to leave the country, which Syrian opposition groups have insisted is a precondition for any peace talks.

The envoy's warnings came as activists in Syria reported a new exodus of civilians from the central city of Homs, adding untold numbers of internal refugees to the millions Mr. Brahimi said had already been displaced by the war. Over the past three days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of residents have fled fighting in the Deir Ba'alba district of Homs after government troops stormed the restive neighborhood, according to activists in Talbiseh, north of Homs, where many of the refugees were being received.

Some residents have blamed rebel fighters for the incursion, saying the army moved in after the insurgents inexplicably quit the neighborhood. In Syria's other cities, residents have frequently been angered by the tendency of rebel fighters to occupy a neighborhood and then attack government troops before abruptly withdrawing and leaving civilians to bear the brunt of the army's brutal retaliation.

It was unclear how many people had been killed in the fighting in the district. One young witness said he believed a neighbor had been killed. Two videos purportedly from Deir Ba'alba showed the bodies of about a dozen men who had apparently been executed with gunshots to the head. But there was no confirmation of claims made on Saturday by an antigovernment group, the Local Coordination Committees, that hundreds had been killed.

One resident of Deir Ba'alba, a 14-year-old boy reached by Skype in Talbiseh, said he had fled with his parents at 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The family had grown accustomed to sporadic fighting and gunfire, and usually fled to a relative's house elsewhere in Homs. "But this time, it was heavy shelling," the teenager said. "I could hear the asphalt cracking under the tanks."

As he and his family left, the boy saw the body of a neighbor, a woman, lying on the ground, he said. His mother tried to convince the boy that the neighbor was alive. "I'm sure I saw her dead," he said. "Her neck was bleeding. She was unveiled. It was the first time I saw our neighbor unveiled."

One fighter from Homs said the retreat had come after the rebel military council for Homs failed to provide ammunition for its fighters in Deir Ba'alba. "They asked for supplies 48 hours before the invasion," the fighter said. "Their call was not answered. I don't know why."

Civilians had begged the fighters not to leave, or at least to leave their weapons behind, two fighters said. Another fighter from Homs, calling the withdrawal "suicidal," said the rebels had left civilians "to face their destiny alone."

"We don't know what happened to them," he said.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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