THE NEW United Nations envoy to Syria made a startling admission yesterday that his job was "nearly impossible" and there was not much he could do about the country's civil war.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, chosen to replace Kofi Annan by the UN and the Arab League to try to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said his predecessor had come up against a "brick wall".
"I'm standing in front of that same wall," he said. "I don't see a crack."
He said he was scared of the task ahead. "People are already saying people are dying, what are you doing?" he said. "Indeed, we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight."
As he spoke, in an interview with the BBC, events on the ground added conviction to his brutal assessment. Syrian regime jets hit a shelter in the northern town of Al-Bab, a base in Aleppo province for the Free Syrian Army, killing at least 18 people, including six women and two children. Another strike killed an entire family, including seven children, in Aleppo city.
A car bomb exploded in a town on the south-east outskirts of Damascus with a large Druze and Christian population that is said to be largely pro-regime.
Mr Brahimi's sense of hopelessness will raise new questions about the choice of peace envoy.
Historically, Algeria has been one of Syria's closest allies, and he has little trust from the opposition, particularly after he refused to agree to the Arab League's own position that President Bashar al-Assad needed to step down for a solution to work.
He said he had taken the job on out of a sense of duty but with little expectation of being able to achieve anything that Mr Annan, with whom he had discussed the situation throughout, had not achieved. "I know how difficult it is -- how nearly impossible. I can't say impossible -- nearly impossible," he said.
With the regime unable to push the rebels out of Aleppo or secure its own capital Damascus, the opposition feels no need to step back from its demand for Mr Assad to go as a precursor to any talks. The regime has ruled that out, as have its external backers in Iran and Russia.
There is also little sign of any external action that might accelerate a military victory for either side.
A Turkish proposal for a "safe zone" for refugees in the north of the country, which could become a secure base for the rebels, fell on deaf ears at the UN Security Council last week. The 'Washington Post' quoted senior US officials as saying a safe zone would require the destruction of Syrian air defences -- something they described as a "very slippery slope". (© Daily Telegraph, London)