HOPES FOR A halt to violence in Syria over a Muslim holiday lay in tatters Saturday as fighting raged, war planes targeted Aleppo and some 146 people were reported killed on the first day of Eid al-Adha.
The ceasefire conditionally agreed by President Bashar Assad’s regime and the main rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday had raised the prospect of the first real halt to the fighting after 19 months of conflict.
But the first day Friday of Eid – one of the most sacred holidays in Islam – saw the ceasefire shattered by fresh fighting, deadly car bombings and a new regime vow to hunt down “armed terrorists”, its term for rebel fighters.
A rebel commander in the embattled northern city of Aleppo said there was no doubt the ceasefire initiative, proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, had fallen apart.
“This is a failure for Brahimi. This initiative was dead before it started,” Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the FSA military council in Aleppo, told AFP by telephone.
He insisted the FSA had not broken the ceasefire and was only carrying out defensive actions.
“I was on several fronts yesterday and the army did not stop shelling,” Okaidi said. “Our mission is to defend the people, it is not us who are attacking.”
A Syrian rebel soldier watches an enemy position amid mortar explosions and gunfire in the Karmal Jabl neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. Image: 26 October 2012 – Narciso Contreras/AP/Press Association Images
The Eid holiday had started with a lull in the fighting – and state television footage of Assad smiling and chatting with worshippers at a Damascus mosque – but quickly degenerated.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a key monitor of the conflict, said 146 people were killed in bombings and fighting on Friday, including 53 civilians, 50 rebels and 43 members Assad’s forces.
The most dramatic attack on Friday saw a car bomb in Damascus explode in a residential area housing police officers and their families, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 30, according to state media.
But clashes also continued at most flashpoints of the Syrian conflict and army commanders announced late on Friday that Assad’s forces were still engaged in “fighting against armed terrorist groups”.
A Syrian displaced child holds the picture of his father, killed by Syrian army forces, during a demonstration in a refugee camp near Atma, Idlib province, Syria, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. A powerful car bomb exploded in Damascus and scattered fighting broke out in several areas across Syria Friday, quickly dashing any hopes that a shaky holiday cease-fire would hold for four days.(AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)
Early Saturday, fresh violence killed eight people, the Observatory said, amid clashes and shelling in Damascus province, Aleppo, Daraa in the south and the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
The Observatory said regime warplanes had also resumed flying over Aleppo on Saturday after a brief lull on Friday.
The Britain-based Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals. It says its tolls take into account civilian, military, and rebel casualties.
According to the Observatory, 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 Shiite Islam.
Assad’s forces and the FSA had both agreed to a call by Brahimi to lay down their arms for the four-day Eid, but both also reserved the right to respond to attacks.
Brahimi had hoped the truce might lead to a more permanent ceasefire during which he could push for a political solution and bring aid to stricken areas.
Okaidi, the FSA commander in Aleppo, said the ceasefire had been doomed from the start and that the international community needed to stop putting faith in the regime.
“The Syrian people have become guinea pigs, every time there is an envoy who tries an initiative, while we know the regime will not respect it.”
Clothes belonging to a displaced Syrian family dry on the top of a tent in a refugee camp near Atma, Idlib province. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)