Middle East

Fresh massacres in Syria dim cease-fire hopes

Turkish boys look through a shattered window after a shell hit a health center in the Reyhanli district of Turkey’s Hatay province.

BEIRUT: Syrian government warplanes struck a group of people queuing for bread in Aleppo Tuesday, killing at least 10 and adding to already depleted hopes for a vague cease-fire plan floated for the Muslim Eid holiday beginning Friday.

Joint U.N. and Arab League peace mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, winding up his five-day visit to the capital Damascus, was still pushing “extremely hard” for his temporary cease-fire plan, his spokesman said.

But having failed to secure a commitment from either President Bashar Assad’s government or rebel opposition fighters battling the 19-month civil war, and with no clear plan as to how to monitor the plan, hopes for the plan’s success were fading rapidly.

The Arab League dampened hopes further, saying the chances of the truce coming into effect were “slim.”

“Neither the rebels nor the regime appear to want a cease-fire, and the daily death toll continues to exceed 100,” the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In an early toll, the Britain-based group said 64 people were killed across Syria Tuesday.

In Cairo after departing the Syrian capital Tuesday afternoon, Brahimi was to brief the divided U.N. Security Council on his efforts Wednesday.

“It remains to be seen what will happen” about the cease-fire, said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“Mr. Brahimi is pushing extremely hard as is the secretary-general because this is an extremely important moment.”

Nesirky said the envoy wanted “a long-lasting cease-fire that will enable a political process to unfold.”

Nesirky replaced Ahmad Fawzi as Brahimi’s spokesman, who resigned Monday. Fawzi told The Daily Star his contract ended and that he requested for it to not be renewed, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

The 15-member Security Council is bitterly divided over the conflict, with Western nations pressing for international action against Assad’s regime and Russia and China repeatedly blocking these moves.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous spoke Monday of tentative plans to assemble a peacekeeping force if a cease-fire takes hold.

“We are getting ourselves ready to act if it is necessary and a mandate is approved,” Ladsous said.

But a Russian-drafted Security Council statement that was set to back Brahimi’s call for an Eid cease-fire and be adopted by the Security Council Tuesday was apparently postponed, according to blogger Inner City Press who reports on the U.N.’s activities.

The two sides to the conflict have cautiously welcomed Brahimi’s proposal, but while Brahimi has said he contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria as well as other armed groups in the country – finding them “very favorable” to the idea of a truce – neither side has given full commitment to the plan.

The Syrian government said Brahimi’s visit was “successful” although without a concrete outcome.

Syrian authorities “are still optimistic,” deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mokdad told reporters.

“The visit was successful and [Syria’s] cooperation with Brahimi is without limits.”

Assad’s government has demanded rebels commit to laying down their weapons first, while opposition groups and fighters have said there is no indication Assad’s forces are willing to halt assaults against civilians.

Abdel-Basset Seyda, the head of the Syrian National Council, told the Associated Press that rebel fighters are willing to halt fighting during the holiday but will respond if attacked.

He said he doubts the regime will honor the cease-fire and that Brahimi’s plan is too vague.

“Brahimi hasn’t any mechanism to observe the situation,” Seyda said by telephone from Stockholm, Sweden. “Now he is saying every side can do that [halt fighting] by itself.”

With violence continuing, Syrian ally Iran suggested hosting a “national dialogue” in the region among all the parties to find a political solution to the conflict.

Rebels reject any Iranian involvement, reflecting the view the U.S. and some Western and Arab states hold that it is facilitating Assad’s assault on civilians, providing material and technical support. Iran, which accuses Western and Arab nations of arming the rebels, has repeatedly said it is in contact with opposition groups, without identifying them.

On the battlefront, warplanes raided an eastern district of the northern city of Aleppo, the conflict’s focal point since mid-July, killing a child and nine other people, the Observatory said.

“Ten people, including a child, were killed by a military airstrike near a bakery in the Masaken Hanano neighborhood of Aleppo,” the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone.

“It is always at the bread lines” where people get killed, he added.

A resident confirmed the aerial attack to AFP, saying that civilians were killed “as they were standing in line to get bread from the Zahra bakery.”

The Observatory also reported fighting in Damascus province, the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and Deraa in the south. It said Syrian warplanes again struck the strategic rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numaan in the country’s north in an attempt to reopen a key supply route.

Opposition fighters seized Maaret al-Numan, which lies along the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus on Oct. 9, disrupting government forces’ ability to send supplies and reinforcements to the northwest, where rebels are attempting to establish a liberated zone along the Turkish border.

Turkish media reported, meanwhile, that an anti-aircraft shell from Syria hit an empty room of a health center inside Turkey, causing no injuries, in the latest incident of cross border violations along the Turkish border.

Ever since a shell fired from Syria on Oct. 3 slammed into a Turkish border town, killing five civilians, Turkey has been firing into Syria in retaliatory attacks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 24, 2012, on page 1.




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