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Syria government indicates accepts holiday truce: Russia

By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has indicated to Russia that it will accept U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's proposal for a Muslim holiday ceasefire in Syria, Moscow's U.N. envoy said on Wednesday.

"We have had indications that they (Syria's government) are accepting the proposal of Mr. Brahimi," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation Security Council during which Brahimi briefed council members via video link from Egypt.

Brahimi told council members that a final announcement Of a ceasefire with rebels was expected Thursday. Churkin seemed to confirm remarks Brahimi made earlier on Wednesday in Cairo, when he said the government had indicated its acceptance of the proposed truce.

The council issued a statement after the meeting supporting the ceasefire, which would begin on Friday and last for several days at least during the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, and urging "all regional and international actors to use their influence" to ensure the truce is implemented.

"The members of the Council agreed that an Eid al-Adha ceasefire could be a first step towards a sustainable cessation of all violence," the council said.

After Brahimi spoke to the press in Egypt, the Syrian government appeared to contradict him, saying that its military command was still studying the truce proposal.

"The answer will be announced tomorrow officially speaking," Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters. "We have always been part of the solution, not part of the problem."

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Brahimi also contacted the opposition to persuade rebels to accept a temporary truce in the 19-month-old conflict that the United Nations says has killed around 30,000 people.

"He had been in touch with various parts of the opposition," Lyall Grant told reporters. "Certainly the Free Syrian Army and other parts of the opposition had indicated that they were prepared to respond if the government took the first step in initiating the ceasefire over the Eid period."

On the way into the council meeting, Churkin said Moscow hoped Brahimi's plan would be successful.

"We support it very strongly," Churkin said. "We worked very hard in support of Mr. Brahimi in making sure there is a chance that might happen."

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong echoed Churkin's views.

"Hopefully we will see the truce, and also we want to see a sustainable ... cessation of all violence," Li told reporters after the council session.

The United States and European council members blame Russia, a staunch ally and key arms supplier for Assad's government, and China for the council's deadlock on the 19-month-long conflict. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad and reject the idea of sanctioning his government.

U.S. BOOSTS 'NON-LETHAL' AID TO REBELS

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington also would like to see an end to the violence.

"And we'd like to see a political transition take hold and begin," she told reporters in Washington in an appearance with the visiting Brazilian foreign minister. "We've been calling for that for more than a year."

She said the United States was increasing its non-lethal support for the Syrian opposition, including working with local councils inside Syria. She said Washington also was working with its friends and allies to promote more cohesion among the disparate Syrian opposition groups with the aim of producing a new leadership council following meetings scheduled for Doha in the next several weeks.

One envoy said Brahimi also told the Security Council that he needs its "strong and unanimous support."

"Another failure would lead to extreme escalation and spillover to other countries," the diplomat, who was inside the meeting, paraphrased Brahimi as saying.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay also emphasized the need for the council to overcome its impasse on Syria in an address to the 193-nation General Assembly.

"While taking into account important political concerns, it is urgent to find ways to avert the massive loss of civilians and human rights violations," Pillay said.

"International law obliges states to protect their people, and where a state manifestly fails to carry out this obligation, then the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," she said.

Russia and China have repeatedly said they refuse to condone outside military intervention in Syria such as the NATO operation to protect civilians in Libya last year that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his death at the hands of rebels who fought to oust him.

Brahimi told the council there was no longer a single safe place for Syrian civilians in the country and that the army continued to shell indiscriminately, diplomats said. He also spoke of a disregard for humanitarian law and human rights on both sides.

"Executions, kidnapping and arbitrary detentions (by the government) continue," a diplomat cited Brahimi as saying.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)

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