‘Heaviest’ air raids shake Damascus on last day of Syria Eid truce
DAMASCUS: Explosions shook Damascus on Monday as warplanes launched their heaviest air raids yet and a car bomb struck, with the UN-Arab League peace envoy saying Syria’s conflict was going from bad to worse.
The air raid blasts, heard coming from several outlying districts, rattled windows in the centre of the capital and were among the most intense in Damascus since the beginning of Syria’s 19-month conflict, an AFP correspondent said.
They were followed by a car bombing that state television said killed at least 10 people in the predominantly Christian and Druze area of Jaramana, just outside Damascus. A watchdog said 12 people had died and 15 been wounded.
The violence came as world powers looked to pick up the pieces of a failed effort for a Muslim holiday ceasefire, with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow and due in China this week as he prepares to present new ideas to the UN Security Council.
“I have said and it bears repeating again and again that the Syrian crisis is very very dangerous, the situation is bad and getting worse,” Brahimi, who will travel to China on Tuesday and Wednesday, said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
On Monday, the final day of the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, the Syrian military launched at least 48 air strikes around the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“These are the heaviest air strikes since warplanes were first deployed over the summer,” the watchdog’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.
“The regime is looking to make real gains. There are battles in all of these areas being hit,” said Abdel Rahman.
Warplanes struck at least 11 targets around Damascus, the Observatory said, with attacks focused on rebel positions in a northeastern belt where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been battling to take over opposition strongholds.
A Syrian security official told AFP the military was trying to prevent the rebels from boosting their hold on the area.
“The army is conducting raids on agricultural lands and orchards around the capital because the rebels are trying to regroup and to strengthen their positions there,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Observatory reported another 11 air raids on villages and towns across the northwestern province of Idlib, where regime forces and rebels have been locked in fierce fighting over the Wadi Daif military base.
The truce proposed by Brahimi for Eid, which started Friday, fell apart amid clashes, shelling and car bombings only hours after it had been due to take effect.
More than 400 people have died since the start of Eid, according to the Observatory, including 35 so far on Monday.
The Britain-based group relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals. It says its tolls take into account civilian, military and rebel casualties.
Ban ki-moon ‘deeply disappointed’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he was “deeply disappointed” by the collapse of the truce and urged all sides “to live up to their obligations and promote a ceasefire”.
UN diplomats say Brahimi was realistic about the ceasefire’s chances and is now looking ahead to new efforts to tackle the crisis.
Diplomats told AFP that he will go back to the Security Council with fresh proposals in November after the visits to Russia and China – who have repeatedly vetoed resolutions threatening action against Assad’s regime.
Lavrov said Moscow was “disappointed” the ceasefire did not hold and stressed Russia’s position that the crisis would only be resolved once Western powers and regional players start negotiating with Assad.
“Hardly anything will be accomplished without dialogue with the (Syrian) government, and that is the only problem that remains in the path towards a political process,” he said.
The Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011 as a peaceful movement, has steadily militarised after being met with brutal state repression and has left more than 35,000 people dead, according to rights groups.
Most rebels, like the population, are Sunni Muslims in a country dominated by a minority regime of Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam.