Middle East

Brahimi urges truce as bomb rocks Damascus

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, greets U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prior to their closed-door meeting in Damascus, Syria, Sunday Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA)

DAMASCUS: Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Sunday appealed to both sides in Syria's conflict to cease fire for a Muslim holiday this week after meeting President Bashar al-Assad, even as a deadly blast rocked Damascus.

Thousands of people, meanwhile, took part in a demonstration against the Syrian regime at the Beirut funeral of a top Lebanese police intelligence chief killed in a car bombing which Lebanon's opposition has blamed on Damascus.

In Syria's capital, a bomb exploded outside a police station in a Christian quarter of the Old City, killing 13 people, the state news agency SANA reported, blaming rebel.

The bombing came as UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi, after meeting Assad, called for "unilateral" ceasefires by the regime and the rebels for the Eid al-Adha holiday that starts on Friday.

"I appeal to everyone to take a unilateral decision to cease hostilities on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and that this truce be respected from today or tomorrow," he said.

The envoy told reporters that the ceasefire call was his "personal initiative, not a blueprint for peace."

"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.

Brahimi added he had contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria and armed groups in the country. "We found them to be very favourable" to the idea of a truce, he said, in a cautious note of optimism.

"We will return to Syria after the Eid (feast) and if calm really takes hold during the feast, we will continue to work" on ending the 19-month conflict, said Brahimi, on his second mission to Damascus since taking up the post in September.

Assad, in his meeting with Brahimi, said he was "open to all sincere efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis on the basis of a rejection of any foreign interference," SANA reported.

He stressed calls for "a halt to terrorism" and "commitment on the part of certain implicated countries to stop harbouring, supporting and arming terrorists" in Syria.

In a meeting on Saturday, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Brahimi discussed "a halt to the violence ... in order to prepare for a global Syrian dialogue, free of any foreign intervention," SANA said.

Syria has repeatedly accused its neighbour Turkey as well as energy-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting the armed insurgency.

Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, a tolerated opposition group not involved in the armed revolt, on Saturday voiced support for the proposed truce.

Such a ceasefire could pave the way for a political process if it were broadened to include the release of prisoners held by the regime and the supply of medical aid to beleaguered citizens, he said.

Brahimi has visited several countries with influence in the Syrian conflict over the past week, including Lebanon and Iran, while warning that the violence could spread and set the entire region ablaze.

Such fears were compounded when a massive car bomb exploded on Friday in Beirut, killing three people including a senior police intelligence chief linked to the anti-Damascus camp in Lebanon, General Wissam al-Hassan.

Lebanon, which was under Syrian military and political domination for 30 years until 2005, has been divided over the conflict in Syria and has seen violence between supporters and opponents of the Assad regime.

Damascus has emerged as prime suspect in Hassan's assassination, despite Syria joining international condemnation of the killings.

After the Beirut funeral, Lebanese police tear-gassed demonstrators trying to storm the offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and demand his resignation over the killing.

On the ground, clashes were reported on Sunday in several parts of Syria, including Damascus province and the northern city of Aleppo, a key battleground for three months.

A car bomb exploded in the Sarian district of Aleppo, wounding several people, an AFP correspondent said. A security source said the blast was caused by "a suicide car bomber."

In the Damascus province town of Harasta, nine people, including a child and three rebels, were killed in clashes and shelling, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which also reported bombardment of the nearby town of Irbin.

Renewed fighting was reported at the southern entrance to Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town on the Aleppo-Damascus highway that fell to the rebels on October 9, severing a key army supply route.

The Britain-based Observatory gave an initial death toll of at least 55 killed nationwide on Sunday, adding to its estimate of more than 34,000 dead since March 2011.





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