UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday that he has appointed a veteran diplomat to broker peace between warring factions in Syria's escalating civil war.
Staffan de Mistura, 67, who is Italian and Swedish and who has served in several posts at the UN for four decades, including as head of UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, succeeds Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who resigned at the end of May after nearly two years of coordinating peace talks taking place in Geneva.
"The special envoy will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis," Ban told journalists at UN headquarters in New York.
"The special envoy will be guided in this endeavor by relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, and the United Nations protection agenda," he added. "He will consult broadly and engage with all relevant interlocutors within and outside Syria, in order to end the violence and facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people."
Some estimates place the death toll in Syria at as much as 150,000 people, with hundreds of thousands injured and millions displaced or having fled into neighboring countries -- causing a vast humanitarian crisis in the civil war that broke out in March 2011.
De Mistura's challenge is all the more difficult given the political landscape, the alliances of the combatants and the deteriorating conditions on the ground in Syria, which a recent UN report calls one of the most dangerous places on earth for children.
The war is all the more perilous to international peace as it has sparked a revival of sectarian violence in Iraq. Former al-Qaida-linked Islamist fighters left Syria, crossed the border into northern Iraq and began taking over cities, routing the Iraqi army in a march toward Baghdad.
The United States is backing an umbrella rebel group it considers most moderate, though the rebels have among their ranks al-Qaida-linked groups, while Russia supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The two veto-wielding former adversaries have locked horns in the Security Council, where Russia and China have vetoed several resolutions, which experts have said has allowed Syria's war to continue unabated.
Arab nations have largely divided their loyalties along sectarian lines, with Sunni-led nations backing the rebel groups against Shia-led Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have also generated a curious development between the United States and Shia-led Iran, which the United States opposes in its support for Syria but joins with in its backing for Shia-led Iraq as the Shia-led government fends off a Sunni-led insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Brahimi's resignation from the envoy to Syria was effective May 31. He had convened two rounds of the so-called Geneva II conference earlier this year but admitted that the talks produced little fruit.
Brahimi succeeded former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who resigned in August 2012 after failing to broker a cease-fire as the country descended into war.
De Mistura most recently served as deputy foreign minister in Mario Monti's Italian government. He speaks seven languages, including colloquial Arabic.
In a statement, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said: "Mr. de Mistura brings a wealth of diplomatic experience and regional knowledge to his new posting, having previously served in a range of UN roles, including as the UN's Special Representative in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout his career, he has proved a tenacious and creative problem solver, and a tireless champion of peace, security, and human dignity."
Ban also named Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy as deputy special envoy for Syria, to assist de Mistura.
"I call on the international community, including in particular the Security Council and the Syrian parties, to give Mr. de Mistura unified support in order to allow him to succeed in his mission," Ban said.