* Algerian to take over as Syria mediator - U.N.
* More than 66,000 Syrian refugees now in Turkey
* Former Syrian PM in Qatar to discuss anti-Assad struggle
* Ahmadinejad says no room for Israel in new Middle East
BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 (Reuters) - The United Nations
on Friday confirmed that veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar
Brahimi would become the new international mediator on Syria, as
the 17-month-old conflict slid deeper into civil war and
refugees fled to Turkey in increasing numbers.
Brahimi, who hesitated for days to accept a job that
France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud called an "impossible mission,"
will replace former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is
stepping down at the end of the month.
"The (U.N.) Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi's
willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to
this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects,
the strong, clear and unified support of the international
community, including the Security Council," U.N. spokesman
Eduardo del Buey said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief
Nabil Elaraby back Brahimi's appointment, said del Buey, who
added that achieving a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis
remained a top priority for the United Nations.
Diplomats said all Security Council members supported
The announcement confirmed what diplomats told Reuters on
Brahimi, a Nobel Peace laureate, will have a new title,
Joint Special Representative for Syria. Diplomats said the
change was to distance him from Annan, who had complained that
his Syria peace plan was hampered by a divided Security Council.
U.N. officials told Reuters that Brahimi was expected to
arrive in New York next week to meet with Ban and discuss plans
for a fresh approach to Syria. More than 18,000 people have died
in fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and
rebels, according to the United Nations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Security
Council must be united in its support of Brahimi's mission.
"If we don't want his mission to be unsuccessful like
Annan's, we should form a consensus at the Security Council and
not allow any delaying tactics," Davutoglu told a news
conference in the Turkish capital Ankara.
Security Council members Russia and China are resisting
Western efforts to step up pressure on Assad to quit and are
unwilling to give even an amber light for military intervention
-- not that the United States and its allies have shown any
appetite for overt action in Syria.
Turkey, a key regional supporter of the Syrian rebels, is
taking the brunt of a swelling exodus of refugees, with 66,000
Syrians now sheltering there, the Turkish state disaster and
emergency authority said.
Some 1,500 arrived from the rebel-held border town of Azaz
after Assad's air force bombed it on Wednesday, killing at least
35 people, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported. It said another
1,500 from the devastated town were thought to be on their way.
Fighting has been raging in the northern city of Aleppo as
rebels battle for control of Syria's biggest city. Assad's
forces have turned increasingly to air power to hold back
lightly armed insurgents trying to seize territory elsewhere.
More than 250 people, including 123 civilians, were killed
in Syria on Thursday alone, according to the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights, a British-based opposition watchdog.
Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency said 13 of 86
casualties brought from Aleppo and Azaz to a state hospital in
the Turkish border province of Kilis had died from their wounds.
More than 170,000 Syrian refugees have been registered in
Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, the U.N. refugee agency said.
"There has been a further sharp rise in the number of
Syrians fleeing to Turkey," spokesman Adrian Edwards of the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva. Forty
percent of those in Turkey had arrived this month, he added.
Humanitarian conditions in Syria have deteriorated as
fighting worsens, cutting off civilians from food supplies,
health care and other assistance, U.N. agencies say.
Sewage-contaminated water has led to a diarrhoea outbreak in the
countryside around Damascus, with 103 suspected cases.
Some 1.2 million people are uprooted in Syria, many staying
in schools or other public buildings, U.N. officials say. U.N.
humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, ending a visit to Syria, said
on Thursday up to 2.5 million people needed aid there.
UNITING SYRIAN OPPOSITION
A Syrian astronaut who was part of a Soviet space mission a
quarter of a century ago condemned on Friday the world's failure
to stem violence in Syria and urged Assad's opponents to keep up
General Muhammed Ahmed Faris, a military aviator and the
first Syrian in space, fled to Turkey 10 days ago, joining the
ranks of prominent defectors who have included military generals
and former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
Hijab, who defected this month, has arrived in Qatar to
discuss how to unify opposition efforts to hasten Assad's
downfall, his spokesman said.
A Sunni Muslim, Hijab is the most senior civilian official
to desert Assad, whose ruling system is dominated by members of
his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Shi'ite Iran, Assad's closest ally, has cast the revolt in
Syria as a plot by the United States and its regional allies to
destroy an anti-Israel "axis of resistance" linking Tehran,
Damascus and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement.
"You want a new Middle East? We do too, but in the new
Middle East ... there will be no trace of the American presence
and the Zionists," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in
a speech to mark annual state-organised rallies against Israel.
The war in Syria is fraught with danger for neighbouring
countries such as Lebanon, where a local Shi'ite clan this week
kidnapped more than 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a
kinsman seized by Syrian rebels near Damascus.
The gunmen said a Turkish hostage would be the first to die
if their relative were killed.
Gulf Arab states have told their citizens to leave Lebanon
after threats that more hostages would be seized.
The last U.N. monitors are due to leave Damascus by Aug. 24,
U.N. officials said, after a doomed mission to observe a
ceasefire declared by Annan on April 12. It never took hold.
"It is clear that both sides have chosen the path of war,
open conflict, and the space for political dialogue and
cessation of hostilities and mediation is very, very reduced at
this point," deputy U.N. peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet said.