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Deadly attacks surge as Iran’s foreign minister visits Syria

Damascus: Iran’s foreign minister, who negotiated his country’s nuclear deal with world powers, discussed ways of ending Syria’s civil war with President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, as attacks surged around the Syrian capital, killing at least 36 people and wounding dozens.

Stepped-up rebel shelling and government airstrikes came just a few hours before Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Damascus, where he discussed a four-point proposal Iran wants to offer to the United Nations as a way out of Syria’s grinding conflict.

That plan, according to a Lebanese politician familiar with the proposal, includes a cease-fire and a power-sharing government that would keep Assad in the picture, at least for now, pending internationally supervised elections.

The politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge details of the plan, said it shows the Iranians were “not ready” to withdraw their support for Assad.

Syrian state-run TV quoted Zarif as saying after talks with Assad that their discussion focused on ways of ending the Syrian crisis.

“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 combatting extremism and terrorism,” Zarif said, referring to Gulf Arab countries that back Syrian rebels.

According to Syria’s state news agency, SANA, Zarif stressed that any solution for the crisis should be “far from any foreign intervention and in a way that preserves the country’s territorial unity” and independence.

He also reiterated Iran’s determination to continue supporting Syria.

But the day’s surge in violence underscored the improbability of efforts to bring about a truce anytime soon in a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced half the country’s population since March 2011 and allowed the Islamic State group to flourish.

Assad has lost control over more than half the country by some estimates much of it now ruled by warlords and militias.

Still, Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers is widely seen as providing an opportunity for achieving some kind of breakthrough on Syria.

The deal has opened diplomatic channels between Saudi Arabia and Assad’s Iran-backed government, although the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, denied on Tuesday his country was wavering in its position that Assad should have no future role in Syria.