(CNN) -- An Algerian diplomat has been appointed to replace Kofi Annan as the special U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria.
He is Lakhdar Brahimi, Eduardo Del Buey, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Friday. Brahimi previously was a special U.N. representative in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end. The 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," Del Buey said.
"Diplomacy to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria remains a top priority for the United Nations. More fighting and militarization will only exacerbate the suffering and make more difficult the path to a peaceful resolution of the crisis, which would lead to a political transition in accordance with the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."
Principal deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said "Brahimi is a capable and seasoned diplomat, well-known to us and others in the international community."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton similarly welcomed his appointment and said her message to Brahimi and the Syrian people was simple.
"The United States stands ready to support you and secure a lasting peace," she said. "The international community remains fully committed to a Syrian-led political transition leading to a pluralistic political system representing the will of the people."
Brahimi is a member of the Elders, the group of veteran diplomats and world leaders.
Along with his work in Afghanistan and Iraq, he has fought for Algerian independence and served as Algeria's foreign minister and other diplomatic roles for the country after it achieved independence, the Elders website said.
He was an Arab League special envoy in 1989 when he brokered the Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war. He was a special envoy to several African countries, led the U.N. observer mission during elections in South Africa ushering in Nelson Mandela to power, and was sent to Yemen in 1994 to help end that country's civil war. He also led a panel to review U.N. peacekeeping operations.
As an Elder, he was involved with promoting peace in Cyprus and the Middle East and was part of a process urging dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan.
Brahimi's selection came as Western and Arab diplomats gathered at the United Nations to try to plot an end to a civil war that has left thousands dead and as many as 2.5 million more in dire need of humanitarian aid.
There had been talk of the appointment, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told Syrian State TV late Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad's regime welcomed the pick.
Ban vowed Thursday to keep a presence in Syria, possibly opening a liaison office that would support efforts for a political solution to the crisis.
While Ban did not disclose the size of the operation, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department told reporters it would be a relatively small contingency of about 20 people.
Annan recently announced he was stepping down after his negotiated peace deal failed to take hold. The U.N. Security Council is pulling its 300 observers who were in Syria to monitor the failed peace plan.
As diplomats worked to find a political solution, fighting raged across Syria. At least 168 people were killed, 40 in Damascus and its suburbs, a figure that includes 16 young men slaughtered in Douma, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
There were 45 other deaths in Aleppo province, 36 in Daraa province, including eight in Nawa; and 30 in Homs province, including 10 in Deir Baalba and an entire family in Qosair.
For days, the city of Aleppo in northern Syria has been the center of some of the worst fighting.
The opposition also accused Syrian forces of shelling flashpoint neighborhoods in Aleppo where rebels are making a stand, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition group.
It is the latest hotspot in a nearly 18-month conflict that began in March 2011 with a brutal government crackdown on mass protests calling for government reform. The protest movement quickly devolved into an armed conflict.
Al-Assad's government has refused to acknowledge the civil war, maintaining it is fighting armed gangs and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing the country.
"Some may ask why there is a delay in Aleppo, and I will say it is simple. The Syrian military has plans to keep the casualties and the destruction of the infrastructure to its minimum when confronting these armed gangs," Moallem told State TV.
"The Syrian military always keeps in mind that they need to safeguard and protect everyone. But the armed terrorist gangs have no principles, they kill and destroy and no one holds them accountable."
CNN is unable to independently verify claims of violence as Syria has severely restricted the access of international journalists.
Despite the claims, the humanitarian situation in Syria appears to be deteriorating rapidly.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of Syrians fleeing to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday. More than 170,000 Syrian refugees in those countries have been registered by the United Nations, it said.
"The real number of refugees is higher as not all refugees register," the agency said.
Many Iraqis who took refuge in Syria because of the war in Iraq have gone home.
"The total number of Iraqi returnees from Syria has reached 26,821 since July 18, including 5,997 returnees by air," the agency said.
"Over a million people have been uprooted and face destitution. Perhaps a million more have urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people's livelihoods," Valerie Amos, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in Damascus on Thursday.
CNN's Ben Wedeman in western Syria and Saad Abedine and Joe Sterling in Atlanta contributed to this report.