Syria Eid truce collapses

2012-10-28 22:26
Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi during a press conference at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. (Nasser Nasser, AP)

Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi during a press conference at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. (Nasser Nasser, AP)

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Damascus - Fighting and air raids shook Syria on Sunday as the international community looked to pick up the pieces of a failed effort to halt the violence for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Fresh clashes saw rebels storm regime positions in the suburbs of Damascus as air strikes pummelled opposition-held areas on the eastern outskirts of the capital, activists and a watchdog said.

The four-day ceasefire proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi collapsed amid clashes, shelling and car bomb attacks only hours after it had been due to take effect with the start of Eid on Friday morning.

With hopes shattered of even a temporary halt to the 19 months of bloodshed in Syria, diplomats said Brahimi is looking ahead to new efforts to tackle the crisis.

He is to go to the UN Security Council in November with new proposals aimed at pushing for political talks between President Bashar Assad and the opposition, UN diplomats told AFP, and will head this week for Russia and China to discuss the crisis.

Brahimi will "come back with some ideas for Security Council activity early next month," said one senior UN diplomat.

"The political process will not start until Assad and the opposition have battered each other so much that there is no choice. They are not there yet, but Brahimi has some ideas," added another envoy at the Security Council.

On the ground on Sunday, rebel forces took control of three military posts in the outer Damascus suburb of Douma amid fierce fighting and killed four soldiers at another checkpoint in the region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Regime warplanes hit targets in three air strikes in the nearby towns of Irbin, Zamalka and Harasta, where the military has been trying for weeks to dislodge rebel forces, the group said.

Souks hit

At least 23 people were killed on Sunday, according to a preliminary count compiled by the Observatory, following 114 deaths on Saturday, including 47 civilians, 36 soldiers and 31 rebels.

The Britain-based Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals.

In the northern commercial hub Aleppo, fierce fighting broke out in several districts of the embattled city, as the army shelled two neighbourhoods including the ancient souks in the heart of Syria's second city, it said.

The souks are part of Aleppo's Old City district, listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Parts of the souks were badly damaged by a fire caused by the fighting in late September.

Assad's regime has blamed the rebels for the failure of the ceasefire, saying government forces have only responded to opposition ceasefire violations. The rebels too have said they only reacted to regime attacks.

Brahimi had hoped the Eid truce might lead to a more permanent ceasefire during which he could push for a political solution and bring aid to stricken areas of the country.

Analysts and diplomats said the Algerian diplomat had been realistic about the ceasefire's chances and that its failure would not stop him from making a new bid to halt the conflict.

"Brahimi never pretended the ceasefire had a high chance of success," said Richard Gowan, of the Centre on International Co-operation at New York University.

Anti-Assad slogans

"Diplomats at the UN won't blame him for this failure. Syrian citizens may be less forgiving, but they have surely given up any hope in the UN already. Brahimi can and should soldier on after Eid."

Rights groups say more than 35 000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began as an anti-regime uprising but is now a civil war pitting mainly Sunni rebels against Assad's regime dominated by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

In the Muslim holy city of Mina meanwhile, enraged pilgrims cursed Assad and prayed for his death on Sunday as they hurled pebbles at pillars representing Satan in the final ritual of the annual hajj pilgrimage in western Saudi Arabia.

Rebel flags billowed among vast crowds of pilgrims who heaved towards the stoning site amid chanting of anti-Assad slogans.

"Oh God, may we see Bashar Assad soon hanged or burnt, kicked out or a humiliated prisoner," one Syrian yelled through a loudhailer as dozens walking behind him shouted "Amen".

Read more on:    un security council  |  bashar assad  |  lakhdar brahimi  |  syria  |  syria conflict
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