Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been named to succeed former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as UN and the Arab League Special Envoy to Syria.
He is charged with halting the civil war -- an "impossible mission" according to one French diplomat. Indeed, while the Assad regime has welcomed his appointment, nobody else really cares very much. The UN is irrelevant in this struggle which is why the rest of the world is working outside the UN to try and solve the crisis. The US and Turkey have been working closely to open conduits for arms to the rebels, and giving the Free Syrian Army valuable intelligence on troop movements. The Gulf states have been supplying small arms to the FSA while other EU states are assisting the FSA with their own non-lethal assistance packages.
But Brahmi may be valuable some day as a facilitator in getting Assad to abdicate -- something that won't happen in the immediate future but might be on the horizon as the rebels become more effective in fighting regime forces.
Brahimi made it clear he was acutely aware of the Security Council problem and would therefore need to urgently clarify what support the United Nations can offer him to ensure his mission has a better chance of success.
"When I go to New York I will be asking for lots of things. How to organise ourselves, whom we are going to talk to, (and) what kind of plan we are going to put together," he told Reuters in a phone interview from Paris on Saturday.
"We will start discussing all this, what kind of support I will get and what kind of support I will need to try and do this job," he added.
Brahimi takes over the role - described as an "impossible mission" by a senior French diplomat - at a time when fighting between government forces and rebels is in full swing with no sign of an imminent ceasefire.
More than 18,000 people have been killed and some 170,000 have so far fled the country, according to the United Nations.
Yet the Security Council remains deeply divided with Russia and China vetoing sanctions on Assad, arguing that the West is seeking to topple the Syrian government. The three other permanent members of the Council - the United States, Britain and France - all favour tough action however.
Brahimi said he would head to New York as early as next week to officially accept his mission and will later go on to Cairo to meet Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.
He conceded that the problems Annan had faced had given him pause for thought.
"I've been struggling with the very principle of getting on such a mission and I've been discussing with the United Nations, with the Secretary General of the United Nations, how they saw this and how I would fit in," he said.
In a separate interview with France 24 television, Brahimi said he would soon meet with the Security Council.
"We are going to discuss very seriously how they can help," he said. "They are asking me to do this job. If they don't support me, there is no job. They are divided, but surely they can unite on something like this and I hope they will."
If nothing else, Brahmi can act as a witness to the slaughter, as the UN Observer Mission packed its bags and left Syria this weekend -- its mandate at an end. Assad has been taking advantage of the lack of witnesses by employing his air force to bomb civilian targets in several cities.
In new violence Saturday, regime airstrikes and shelling his rebel areas across the country, including the southern province of Daraa, the northern region of Aleppo, Deir el-Zour to the east and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, activists said. Activists said at least 15 people were killed in the Deir el-Zour area.
One air raid hit the northern town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There was no immediate word on casualties. Earlier this week, an airstrike on Azaz killed more than 40 people and wounded at least 100, according to international watchdog Human Rights Watch, whose team visited the site.
Azaz, which is home to around 35,000 people, is also the town where rebels have been holding 11 Lebanese Shiites captured in May.
Also Saturday, 40 bodies were found piled on a street in the Damascus suburb of al-Tal, according to the Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees. The suburb saw days of heavy fighting until regime forces largely took over the area earlier this week.
The 40 had all been killed by bullet wounds, but their identity was not known, nor was it known who had killed them, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory.
An "imposible mission" indeed.