Last updated: February 16. 2013 5:32PM - 100 Views

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BEIRUT — The Syrian government on Saturday welcomed the naming of a former Algerian diplomat as the U.N.'s new point-man in efforts to halt the country's escalating civil war. Activists reported more shelling by regime troops, including an air attack on a northern border town where scores died earlier this week.


In a statement, the office of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa not only expressed support for Lakhdar Brahimi, it also denied reports circulating in Arab media that al-Sharaa had defected to the opposition.


Al-Sharaa "did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country," the statement said.


The vice president's cousin Yaroub, a colonel in the military defected to the opposition earlier this month, appearing on the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV. The regime of President Bashar Assad has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though his inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him.


The highest-ranking political defector so far, Assad's former prime minister Riad Hijab, has gone to Qatar where he may reveal his future plans, according to Syrian rebels and a relative of Hijab. Qatar is among a group of Gulf Arab nations that have backed the rebellion against Assad.


The new U.N. envoy, Brahimi, takes over from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan who is stepping down on Aug. 31 after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed. His appointment comes as U.N. observers have begun leaving Syria, with their mission officially over at the end of Sunday.


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