By BEN HUBBARD AUG. 12, 2015
ANTAKYA, Turkey — The foreign minister of Iran arrived in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday to discuss the civil war in Syria with President Bashar al-Assad, while rebel shelling and government airstrikes killed more than 30 people nearby.The visit by the Iranian minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, came amid intensified diplomacy among Russia, the United States and several Middle Eastern powers seeking to end the conflict, which has raged for more than four years.While the flurry of meetings has yet to yield any concrete results, it has raised hopes in some circles that international players are willing to seek a compromise — propelled, perhaps, by the brutality and intractability of the conflict, which has killed more than a quarter-million people, displaced millions more and allowed the extremists of the Islamic State to take root and thrive.
In Damascus, Mr. Zarif spoke to Mr. Assad about an Iranian plan to end the conflict. Iran has proposed an immediate cease-fire, the formation of a national unity government, protections for Syrian minorities and internationally supervised elections.
“It is time for the other players and our neighbors to take note of reality, listen to the demands of the Syrian people, and work for combating extremism and terrorism,” Mr. Zarif said, according to Syrian state television.
Rebel forces appeared to time their shelling of parts of Damascus, the capital, to coincide with Mr. Zarif’s arrival, signaling the rebels’ anger at Iran for its staunch support of Mr. Assad.
Various insurgent groups, including Islamic extremists, control substantial areas of Syria, including a number of suburbs of the capital. The shelling on Wednesday came from the suburbs and killed five people, according to state television and antigovernment activists.
The government responded with intensive airstrikes that left 31 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from London through a network of contacts in Syria.
There is no unified political leadership or military command among the insurgent groups, which often clash with one another as well as with the government. So it could be difficult to get them all to stop fighting, even if a diplomatic agreement is reached to halt the conflict.
Before going to Damascus, Mr. Zarif met in Lebanon with Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group. Hezbollah supports Mr. Assad and has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to assist his forces.
In public remarks in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, Mr. Zarif did not mention the civil war in Syria. Rather, he said that the countries of the region should come together to fight their shared enemies: “the Zionist entity and extremism, terrorism and sectarianism.”
Sources: The New York Times