BEIRUT — The Syrian government on Saturday welcomed the naming of a former Algerian diplomat as the UN’s new point man in efforts to halt the country’s escalating civil war. Activists reported more shelling by regime troops, including an air attack on a northern border town where scores died last week.
In a statement, the office of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa not only expressed support for Lakhdar Brahimi, it also denied reports circulating in Arab media that Sharaa had defected to the opposition.
Sharaa ‘‘did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country,’’ the statement said.
The vice president’s cousin Yaroub, a colonel in the military, defected to the opposition earlier this month, appearing on the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV. The regime of President Bashar Assad has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though his inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him.
The highest-ranking political defector so far, Assad’s former prime minister Riad Hijab, has gone to Qatar where he may reveal his future plans, according to Syrian rebels and a relative of Hijab. Qatar is among a group of Gulf Arab nations that have backed the rebellion against Assad.
The new UN envoy, Brahimi, takes over from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who is stepping down on Aug. 31 after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed.
Brahimi’s appointment comes as UN observers have begun leaving Syria, with their mission officially over at the end of Sunday. Their deployment earlier this year had been one of the only concrete achievements in Annan’s peace attempts. The observers had been intended to watch over a cease-fire, but no truce ever took hold.
Sharaa’s office said the vice president ‘‘supports Brahimi’s demand to get united support from the Security Council to carry out his mission without obstacles.’’
Also on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a television interview that Moscow rejected international intervention in the form of a militarily enforced no-fly zone for government aircraft in northern Syria — an idea mentioned as a possible option by US officials.
‘‘That would be a violation of sovereignty if this included areas [in] Syrian territory, as well as a breach of the United Nations charter,’’ Lavrov told Sky News Arabia.
‘‘There are initiatives by the [UN] to provide aid to refugees in camps on the territory of Turkey and Jordan and other countries as per the international humanitarian law,’’ he said in a transcript of the interview.
‘‘But if they are trying to create safe zones and no-fly zones for military purposes by citing an international crisis — that is unacceptable.’’
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that Washington and Turkey were discussing a range of steps, including a no-fly zone over some parts of Syria, as the Assad regime increasingly uses its air force to attack rebels.
And US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Associated Press last Monday that he is confident the United States could successfully enforce such a prohibition of flights, but that plans for a no-fly zone were ‘‘not on the front burner’’ despite persistent calls from rebel forces that they need the added protection.
In new violence Saturday, regime airstrikes and shelling his rebel areas across the country. Activists said at least 15 people were killed in the Deir el-Zour area.