By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 10 (Reuters) - The man expected to replace Kofi Annan as the U.N.-Arab League mediator on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria, on Friday urged world leaders to overcome their differences on a 17-month-old conflict that is descending deeper into full-scale civil war.
"The U.N. Security Council and regional states must unite to ensure that a political transition can take place as soon as possible," Brahimi said in a statement published on the website of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders committed to peace and human rights.
"Millions of Syrians are clamoring for peace," Brahimi said. "World leaders cannot remain divided any longer, over and above their cries."
It is Brahimi's first public statement on Syria since diplomats told Reuters on Thursday that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to name the veteran Algerian diplomat as early as next week to replace Annan.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he would step down on Aug. 31 because he was not able to carry out his job with the U.N. Security Council's veto powers hopelessly divided and deadlocked.
There are no signs that Brahimi will get his wish anytime soon, if at all. The divisions on the Security Council - above all the split between the United States and Russia - run deep.
Russia, with the aid of China, has vetoed three resolutions criticizing and threatening sanctions against Damascus for its 17-month attempt to use military force and heavy arms to crush an increasingly militant opposition. One senior Western envoy said more than 20,000 people have been killed by Assad's forces.
Washington, U.N. diplomats said, saw little point in replacing Annan since Moscow continues to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposes sanctions intended to pressure Damascus into halting the violence.
It also believes the deadlocked Security Council cannot play a constructive role in the conflict and intends to bypass it in the future. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is instead moving, albeit cautiously, to increase its backing for anti-Assad rebels.
The United States blames Russia for undermining Annan's attempts to secure a ceasefire and implement a six-point peace plan that was embraced by the government and rebels but never implemented.
Moscow, Syria's chief ally and principal arms supplier, blames the United States, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for supporting Syrian rebels, including providing weapons. It also says Washington and its European allies on the Security Council have rejected "reasonable" proposals for resolving the conflict.
Brahimi, 78, has served as a U.N. special envoy in a series of challenging circumstances, including in Iraq after the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein; in Afghanistan both before and after the end of Taliban rule, and in South Africa as it emerged from the apartheid era.
09/09/2012 12:25 PM EDT
Syria Blasts Aleppo By Air
09/05/2012 7:50 AM EDT
Syrian City In Flames
08/25/2012 1:45 PM EDT
Lebanese Pilgrim Freed
Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 12:22 PM EDT
This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)
08/24/2012 11:05 AM EDT
Lebanon Sees Heaviest Clashes In Months
Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.
The AP gives more context:
Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.
Read more on HuffPost World.
08/24/2012 11:02 AM EDT
A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 11:00 AM EDT
Refugee Numbers Soar
@ KenRoth :
UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j
08/23/2012 2:00 PM EDT
Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
08/23/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Heaviest Bombardment This Month
Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.
"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.
Read more on HuffPost World.