Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Monday that the UN envoy's proposal to implement a cease-fire in the embattled northern city of Aleppo was "worth studying."
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The envoy, Staffan de Mistura, first raised the idea of small-scale, localized and negotiated truces in Syria at the United Nations in New York late last month. The proposal would involve freezing the fighting in certain areas to allow for humanitarian aid and local steps as part of a push toward a wider peace in Syria's 3 ½-year civil war that has killed more than 200,000.
His plan drew an immediate backlash from Syrian media outlets considered mouthpieces for the government, which warned that the veteran diplomat was being "hasty" and overstepping his authority.
On Monday, de Mistura met with Assad in Damascus for talks that touched on the idea of a local cease-fire in Aleppo, Syria's former commercial hub and the last major city where rebels still hold large areas as they battle government forces.
"President Assad ... considered that the initiative of de Mistura was worth studying and trying to work on to achieve its goals of returning security to the city of Aleppo," said the statement, published by the state-run SANA news agency.
It was not immediately clear whether Assad's remarks reflected a change in the government's stance, or an attempt to appear open to the idea without committing to it.
De Mistura, who is a on a three-day trip to Syria aimed at reducing the violence, also traveled Monday to the central city of Homs, where he visited mosques and churches that were once in rebel-held districts before a local cease-fire agreement earlier this year brought an end to the fighting. He also was expected to meet with a delegation representing armed groups from Waar, the last rebel-held part of the city.
In a statement to reporters following his meeting with the Homs governor, de Mistura said he believes that the solution to Syria's conflict is "peaceful and political, and not a military one."
Also Monday, activists and a pro-government website reported that four Syrian nuclear scientists were killed near Damascus Sunday evening. The men were gunned down on a bus in an area where there was no fighting, suggesting they were the target of the attack.