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China proposes new initiatives for Syria ceasefire

Members of the Free Syrian Army set up a fire to obscure the Kurdish militants' vision, while standing alert during a truce on the top of a
Members of the Free Syrian Army set up a fire to obscure the Kurdish militants' vision, while standing alert during a truce on the top of a

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday it had proposed new initiatives to head off an escalation of violence in Syria, including a phased, region-by-region ceasefire and the establishment of a transitional governing body.

China has been strongly criticized by some in the Arab world for failing to take a stronger stance on the violence in Syria and has subsequently been keen to show it is trying to take a more proactive role in resolving the crisis.

The Chinese plan, proposed on Wednesday to Lakhdar Brahimi, the visiting United Nations-Arab League joint peace envoy on Syria, comes after the collapse of the latest ceasefire proposal to stop the fighting over the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

The 19-month-old conflict, in which rebels are trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad, has killed about 32,000 people.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing that under the "new proposal there are constructive new suggestions such as a ceasefire region by region and phase by phase, and establishing a transitional governing body".

He said it was "an extension of China's effort to push for a political resolution of the Syrian issue".

Guo Xian'gang, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, a government think tank, said the latest proposal did not herald a change in Beijing's position, "but it makes it more concrete".

"China has always maintained the principle of peaceful resolution of the Syria problem, that anti-government forces should achieve peace through dialogue, without outside armed intervention," Guo said.

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 realize 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 realize 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 U.N. Security Council, have vetoed three Western-backed U.N. draft resolutions condemning Assad's government for the bloodshed.

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.

In the latest wave of violence, rebels killed 28 Syrian army soldiers on Thursday in an attack on three checkpoints around the town of Saraqeb straddling the main north-south highway, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Mark Heinrich)

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