(MENAFN - Arab News) China is calling for a phased-in ceasefire and negotiations on a gradual political transition to end the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
A four-point proposal issued by the foreign ministry yesterday stopped short of calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad and omitted mention of any measures to compel compliance. Alongside Russia, China has steadfastly blocked any outside intervention that could force Assad from power.
The proposal called on the international community to support the work of the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi and other mediation efforts. Assistance should be provided to refugees, but humanitarian work should not be politicized or militarized, it said.
The ministry's statement was an elaboration of remarks made Wednesday by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to Brahimi during a meeting in Beijing.
It said yesterday it had proposed the new initiative to head off an escalation of violence in Syria, including a phased, region-by-region ceasefire and the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The plan, proposed on Wednesday to Lakhdar Brahimi, the visiting United Nations-Arab League joint peace envoy on Syria, "is an extension of China's effort to push for a political resolution of the Syrian issue", a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The 19-month-old conflict has left an estimated 32,000 dead.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing that under Beijing's "new proposal there are constructive new suggestions such as a ceasefire region by region and phase by phase, and establishing a transitional governing body".
Brahimi met on Wednesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi who said the world should act with greater urgency to support Brahimi's mediation efforts.
"More and more countries have come to realise that a military option offers no way out, and a political settlement has become an increasingly shared aspiration," Hong said.
"China's new proposal is aimed at building international consensus and supporting Brahimi's mediation efforts ... and push forward for relevant parties in Syria to realise an early ceasefire and end of violence, and launch a political transition process led by the Syrian people at an early date."
China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, have vetoed three Western-backed UN draft resolutions condemning Assad's government for the violence.
But China has been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change.
Meanwhile, Syrian fighters killed 28 soldiers in attacks on three army checkpoints on the main road from Damascus to the embattled city of Aleppo yesterday, a watchdog said.
They killed the army soldiers around the town of Saraqeb, which straddles the country's main north-south highway, an opposition-linked group said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that opposition activists in Saraqeb, in the northern province of Idlib bordering Turkey, confirmed the attacks had been carried out by several rebel units.
The army has lost swathes of land in Idlib and Aleppo province but is fighting to control towns along supply routes to Aleppo city, where its forces are fighting in many districts.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said that five insurgents were also killed in the attacks, two of which were on the highway linking the capital of Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's most populous city. The third attack was at a checkpoint on the road linking Aleppo with Latakia, a port city where Assad's forces remain mostly in control.
"The rebels have either destroyed or taken six vehicles. They will not stay at the checkpoints for long as Syrian warplanes normally bomb positions after rebels move in," he told Reuters over the phone.
Rebels have relied on ambushes and street fights to make gains in the 19-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian airforce has stepped up aerial strikes on villages, towns and cities across the country in retaliation.
Five rebels were also killed in the attacks near the city of Saraqeb in Syria's northwest, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Obama administration said Wednesday it would push for a major shakeup in Syria's opposition leadership so that it better represents those dying on the front line, can rally wider support and resist attempts by extremists to hijack the revolution against the Assad regime.
Speaking to reporters in Croatia's capital, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration was suggesting names and organizations that should feature prominently in any new rebel leadership that emerges from talks starting next week in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
She dismissed the Syrian National Council, a Paris-based group of regime opponents who have lived in exile for decades, saying its leadership days are over, even if it could still play a role.
The council was viewed with suspicion by rebels who stayed in Syria and fought the regime of President Bashar Assad.
"This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have in many instances not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years," Clinton said.
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Council yesterday blamed the international community's failure to react to the country's conflict for fueling extremist sentiment.
The comments came a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the opposition should "strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution".
Speaking to AFP in Beirut on the phone, SNC chairman Abdel Basset Sayda said the situation resulted from the international community's inaction on Syria.
"The international community is responsible, through its lack of support for the Syrian people, for the growth of extremism in Syria," said the head of the mainly exiled opposition group.
"The international community should criticize itself, and ask itself: What did it give the Syrian people? How has it helped the Syrians to stop the regime's crazy killing?" he added.