Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, the president of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Pinheiro was allowed entry to Syria

The United Nations has confirmed that Paolo Pinheiro, president of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, has finally got inside the country.

Pinheiro was tasked by the UN Human Rights Council with investigating the situation in Syria in August 2011. The move was opposed by both Russia and China.

UN spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian confirmed the Brazilian expert finally gained entry after nearly a year but she refused to make further comments.

Confirmation came as rumours surfaced on that a senior UN human rights investigator was holding talks in Damascus with Syrian regime officials.

Reports said Pinheiro, a veteran UN rights investigator, had met foreign minister Faisal Medad before returning to Geneva.

Pinheiro and his team had drawn up a confidential list of Syrian officials and highly ranked officers suspected of murder, abductions and torture. Members of the armed opposition suspected of similar abuses were also included in the list.

Although the Human Rights Council does not have power to directly punish Syria, the detailed list of alleged abuses and names in the report could serve as a basis for prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.

"It is a positive signal that they finally allowed them in. But what can [Pinheiro] achieve?" one Arab diplomat asked Reuters.

Violence in Syria

In another development, more violence has been reported across the country.

Activists said clashes between the Syrian regime's forces and rebels took place near the capital Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 280 soldiers had defected in Idlib and up to 100 people had died in recent violence.