Iran says it will present Syria initiative to UN

BEIRUT (AP) — Iran will soon submit a four-point plan to end the Syrian civil war to the United Nations, its deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.

State-run news agency IRNA quoted Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying the new initiative will be submitted to the U.N. chief after “detailed consultations between Tehran and Damascus.” Iran is a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s embattled government.

Abdollahian did not elaborate on the plan. But the comments came as Tehran hosted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov this week to discuss possible ways to end the conflict in Syria, which has killed at least 250,000 people.

Abdollahian said most regional players now realize that there is no military solution to the Syria crisis and would like to find a political solution.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces backed by members of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group advanced Wednesday from different directions in the mountain resort of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon, Syrian state media reported.

The fighting came as the ultraconservative Ahrar a-Sham insurgent group said that it has stopped communicating with Iranian mediators after they insisted that fighters and residents leave the resort. Ahrar al-Sham said the government aims to clear out the area’s Sunni Muslim population.

Syrian opposition groups have accused the government and Hezbollah of displacing thousands of Sunnis from areas along the border with Lebanon and preventing them from returning to their homes.

Syrian troops and Hezbollah have been besieging Zabadani since early July, and have faced strong resistance from gunmen inside the resort.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said the fighting has left dozens of militants dead.

The capture of Zabadani would tighten Hezbollah’s grip on Syrian territories bordering Lebanon and help secure the highway linking Beirut with the Syrian capital, Damascus. Hezbollah has said it is fighting alongside Assad’s forces to protect Lebanon from Sunni extremists.

Also Wednesday, coalition warplanes targeted areas held by the Islamic State group near the town of Tabqa in the northern province of Raqqa, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered, a local activist group.

The Observatory said the airstrikes killed at least five IS fighters and wounded 23, including teenage fighters of the so-called “Cubs of the Caliphate.”

At least 250,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it began in March 2011, according to the United Nations.