DAMASCUS, Dec 24: Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Monday held talks with Syria’s president on the “worrying” situation in the country, as Damascus fended off accusations its forces bombed a bakery killing dozens of civilians.

The talks in the capital came as Russia played down fears President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would use chemical weapons against the armed opposition, saying to do so would amount to “political suicide”.

“I had the honour to meet the president and as usual we exchanged views on the many steps to be taken in the future,” Brahimi told reporters at his hotel, a day after he arrived to launch a fresh bid to end the conflict roiling the country.

The UN-Arab League envoy said the Syrian crisis was “always worrying”, with more than 44,000 people killed since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Brahimi expressed hope that “all parties are in favour of a solution that draws Syrian people together”.

“Assad expressed his views on the situation and I told him about my meetings with leaders in the region and outside,” said the veteran Algerian diplomat who took over his present task from former UN chief Kofi Annan.

Brahimi last visited the country on Oct 19 for talks with Assad and other officials in a bid to clinch a temporary ceasefire for Eid. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.

His arrival in the country on Sunday coincided with reports by activists that at least 60 people were killed in a regime air strike on a bakery in the town of Halfaya, in the central province of Hama.

The activists said the attack, in which many women and children were killed, amounted to a “massacre”.

The official news agency SANA, however, on Monday blamed the killings on an “armed terrorist group” — the term used by the regime to describe rebels fighting to topple Assad.

“An armed terrorist group attacked the town of Halfaya committing crimes against the population, killing many women and children,” SANA said, adding that the Syrian army intervened during the assault and “killed and wounded many terrorists”.

“Terrorists then shot video images to accuse the Syrian army when the international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria,” the agency said.

Video footage posted online by activists showed a bombed one-storey block and a crater in the road.—AFP

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