MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria: Syrian jets hammered a rebel town on Friday, the second day of an assault in which the regime is accused of using cluster bombs, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi landed in Damascus to press for a truce.
Brahimi is bidding to secure the ceasefire during the four-day Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday from October 26, hoping it will bring a longer cessation in the 19-month conflict that has already killed more than 34,000 people.
"We will have discussions here with the government, the political parties and civil society about the situation in Syria," Brahimi said at Damascus airport.
"We will talk about the need to reduce the current violence and about whether it is possible to stop for the occasion of Eid al-Adha."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi urged the sides "to heed the call of the special envoy ... for a ceasefire and a cessation of all violence in all its forms during the period of the Eid al-Adha."
Such a truce should last a long time, they said, as it "could create the space to allow a peaceful political process that realises the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, equality and justice."
Brahimi was received at Damascus airport by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad and was scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Saturday.
He is expected to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad at a later date.
Damascus says it is ready to discuss the ceasefire proposal with Brahimi. The opposition says it would welcome any truce but insists the regime must first halt its daily bombardments.
Amid fears of the conflict spreading, a car bomb blast in Beirut on Friday killed eight people, including a top security official linked to the anti-Damascus camp in Lebanon, where leaders pointed a finger of blame at Assad.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi, however, condemned the attack. "These sort of terrorist, cowardly attacks are unjustifiable wherever they occur," he said.
On the ground, rebels and loyalists of the regime were locked in battle for the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway linking Syria's two biggest cities.
Syrian forces again battered the town a day after strikes on a residential area killed dozens, nearly half of them children, rescuers told an AFP reporter at the scene.
The military wants to regain control of the highway to resupply units under fire in Aleppo for the past three months and assist 250 troops besieged in their Wadi Deif base.
Fighter jets overflew at high altitude before nosediving and striking targets on the town's outskirts, as helicopter gunships buzzed the area, the correspondent said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aircraft concentrated their firepower on rebel camps near Wadi Deif, also a major storage facility for armour and fuel.
Rebels showed AFP debris from cluster bombs they accused the air force of dropping on residential areas, as well as dozens of others that failed to explode on impact.
Human Rights Watch has accused Syria of using cluster bombs, a charge denied by the military, which insists it does not possess them.
In the central city of Hama, the Syrian army opened fire and used tear gas against anti-regime protesters, said the Britain-based Observatory.
Following weekly Muslim prayers, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several towns and cities, activists said.
"United States, your malice has not had enough of our blood," was the protesters' rallying cry this week, according to the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page.
Syrian activists have long condemned the international community for its failure to take action against Assad's regime.
The Syrian Observatory said at least 99 people were killed in violence across the country on Friday: 36 civilians, 34 soldiers and 29 rebels.
In the latest cross-border incident, Turkish artillery struck back at Syria on Friday after two Syrian shells landed on the country's territory, Turkey's state-run television TRT reported.
The television network said the shells fell into an empty field in Hatay province near the Syrian border. There was no report of casualties.