DAMASCUS - Syria is ready to cooperate with new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the deputy foreign minister said on Thursday, adding he hoped the veteran Algerian diplomat would help pave the way for “national dialogue”.

“We have informed the United Nations that we accept the appointment of Mr Brahimi,” Faisal Muqdad told reporters in Damascus. “We are looking forward to seeing... what ideas he is giving for potential solutions for the problem here,” he added. “As we cooperated with the Arab and UN missions, we will definitely cooperate with Mr Brahimi if he wishes so.”

Brahimi was appointed to replace former UN chief Kofi Annan, after he announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as envoy following the failure of his six-point peace plan.

“We are not going to tell Brahimi what to do before he even arrives, he is an international expert,” Muqdad said. “But I think it is critical to have a good understanding of the evolution of the crisis, far from international pressures.” Muqdad said he hoped Brahimi would help kick-start a process of national dialogue.

“There will be no winners in Syria, as the West is betting there will be,” he said. “Syria will win, thanks to its people, its leader and its government, which will make the right choices in the midst of these difficult circumstances.” Muqdad said “foreign interference” was the leading cause of the 17-month-conflict, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday has now killed nearly 25,000 people since March last year. he minister said he hoped Brahimi would play “an active role (in facing up to) parties who do not want a solution to the crisis and, in particular, those funding and arming terrorists, extremists and Salafists.”

Brahimi, 78, was the UN envoy in Afghanistan before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and in Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad blames the conflict on “armed terrorist groups,” which it says are being financed by the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

“The (factors) that have fuelled this crisis are well-known — armed groups, terrorist groups supported by regional circles, including the dangerous support by Turkey of terrorist gangs, providing these with sophisticated weapons,” Muqdad said. He accused Turkey of “giving these terrorists, including Al-Qaeda, free access to Turkey to come to Syria. I think this should stop.” Meanwhile, Turkish and US officials on Thursday held their first “operational planning” meeting aimed at bringing about the end of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime.

The meeting was expected to coordinate military, intelligence and political responses to the crisis in Syria where a deadly crackdown on peaceful protests that began in March 2011 has according to activists claimed over 23,000 lives. The officials were also due to discuss contingency plans in the case of potential threats including a chemical attack by Assad’s regime which Washington has said would be a “red line”. Turkish foreign ministry deputy under-secretary Halit Cevik and US ambassador Elisabeth Jones led the delegations made up of intelligence agents, military officials and diplomats at the Ankara meeting, a foreign ministry source told AFP.

The meeting began at 0800 GMT and lasted for eight hours, but no press statement was issued after the closed-door talks.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had announced their plans for such a mechanism to hasten the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on August 11.

Thursday’s meeting came just days after US President Barack Obama warned Syria that any movement or use of its chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would change his perspective on how to respond to the conflict.

A chemical attack would also trigger a refugee influx to neighbouring countries including Turkey which is already hosting more than 70,000 Syrians, as well as the rebel leadership.

On Monday, Davutoglu said Turkey could handle no more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. Earlier, he proposed setting up a UN buffer zone inside Syria to shelter them.

The growing flow of refugees amid fierce fighting in the northern city of Aleppo between regime forces and rebels has raised fears of a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War, when half a million Iraqi Kurds massed along the common border.

The UN Security Council will debate the humanitarian situation and the refugee crisis in Syria on August 30 at a ministerial level meeting.

UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said Wednesday however that despite the increasingly precarious humanitarian situation, UN Security Council divisions would prevent the creation of any safe havens in Syria.

The Security Council has failed to act decisively to try to end the Syrian conflict, hampered by rifts between the West and Syria’s traditional allies China and Russia, particularly over Assad’s fate.

The threat of armed groups including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Al-Qaeda which could exploit a power vacuum in Syria was also expected to be high on the agenda of the Ankara meeting.

In Istanbul, Clinton had said she shared “Turkey’s determination that Syria must not become a haven for PKK terrorists whether now or after the departure of the Assad regime.”

The growing presence in northern Syria of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), affiliated with the PKK blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the United States, has alarmed Turkey which has lined its border with tanks and missile launchers.

Turkish officials fear the chaos in Syria would be utilised by Kurdish fighters who have recently intensified their attacks inside the country also targeting civilians.