Eid truce hopes fade as fighting flares in Syria

Arab League's deputy secretary-general says the Assad government has not shown any real desire to implement a ceasefire, as fighting intensifies.

DAMASCUS // The Eid holiday this week provides only a small window of hope for an agreement on a ceasefire between Syria's rebels and the government of the president, Bashar Al Assad, a senior Arab League official said yesterday.

The United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been pushing for a temporary ceasefire to mark Eid Al Adha, which will begin on Friday.

But Ahmed Ben Hilli, deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, said that there is little chance of a truce.

"The indications that are now apparent and the government's reaction ... do not show any signs of a real desire to implement this ceasefire," he said. "We are days away from Eid. We hope the situation changes and the government and opposition respond even a little bit to this door for negotiations."

Even as Mr Ben Helli spoke, fierce fighting raged across Syria, including around Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and the rebel-held town of Maaret Al Numan in the north-west province of Idlib.

Reports also emerged of the abduction of two regime officials from Daraa in the south.

Mr Brahimi said a truce during Eid could allow the start of a more permanent peace initiative.

"This is a call to every Syrian, on the street, in the village, fighting in the regular army and its opponents, for them to take a unilateral decision to stop hostilities," he said on Sunday.

Mr Brahimi said he contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria and armed groups in the country and "found them to be very favourable" to the idea of a truce.

Mr Al Assad, during a meeting with Mr Brahimi, said he was "open to any sincere efforts seeking to find a political solution to the crisis based on respecting Syria's sovereignty and rejecting any foreign interference", state media reported.

Al Baath newspaper, the ruling party's mouthpiece, seemed cold to the idea however, saying that rebels had already given their reply: a bomb attack on Sunday in Bab Touma, a Christian quarter of Damascus, in which 13 people died.

"Armed terrorist groups responded to Brahimi's [ceasefire] appeal with a series of explosions in Damascus, including a suicide bombing in Bab Touma, leaving dozens dead or wounded," it said.

On the ground, there was no sign yesterday of a let-up in the violence.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes erupted in the morning when troops tried to storm the rebel-controlled town of Harasta on the north-eastern outskirts of Damascus. It also said that Syrian soldiers fought pitched battles with rebels near Maaret Al Numan and around an army base in nearby Wadi Daif, in Idlib province.

According to the watchdog, the clashes were the fiercest seen yet around Wadi Daif base, which has been besieged for nearly two weeks by Free Syrian Army fighters and militants.

The Observatory said that a checkpoint near the base was in flames after it was attacked by the rebels, who killed at least nine soldiers.

Maaret Al Numan, a strategic town on the Aleppo to Damascus highway, has been the scene of intense fighting since it fell to rebels on October 9, severing a key army supply route.

In the northern commercial capital Aleppo, which has been battered by more than three months of clashes, insurgents blew up a train line bridge, used primarily to transport fuel, residents said. A military source confirmed the report.

Fierce machine-gun battles broke out near Aleppo's ancient Umayyad Mosque, as troops fended off rebel attacks on their checkpoints, said a military source.

"Until now we have kept them at bay, but this is a large attack."

Meanwhile, "terrorists" abducted the general prosecutor, Tayssir Smadi, from outside the civil court in Daraa, the Sana news agency said. The Observatory confirmed the report and said that gunmen also kidnapped Baath party member Mahmud Akrad.

The Observatory said at least 63 people, including 15 civilians were killed yesterday across Syria, adding to a toll of more than 34,000 people the group says have been killed since an anti-regime revolt erupted in March last year.

Published: October 23, 2012 04:00 AM

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