Middle East

Warplanes strike inside Damascus

Damaged buildings are pictured after activists say a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Erbeen, near Damascus October 30, 2012. (REUTERS/Maawia Al-Naser/Shaam News Network/HO)

DAMASCUS/BEIRUT: Syrian fighter jets bombed rebel targets with added intensity Tuesday, including striking targets inside Damascus for the first time, an opposition rights group said.

In renewed violence following a four-day cease-fire that was largely ignored over the Eid al-Adha holiday, rebels also claimed to have assassinated an air force general in Damascus and fierce clashes broke out between rebels and troops backed by Palestinian supporters in the country’s largest Palestinian camp.

State television said “terrorists” killed the air force general, Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, in the restive north Damascus district of Rukn al-Din, but gave no further details.

A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the general was shot dead Monday evening as he left a friend’s home.

In a statement posted on the Internet, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it had killed Khalidi, who it claimed was in charge of training, as part of “a series of special operations carried out by the battalion in reprisal of the Assad regime brutality.”

Elsewhere in Damascus, a warplane dropped four bombs on the eastern neighborhood of Jobar, near the opposition-held suburb of Zamalka, where rebel fighters were locked in fierce clashes with the army, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Previously, only helicopter gunships had been used to strafe areas inside the capital, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Residents told The Daily Star the bombing could be heard across the city.

Air strikes also hit rebel bastions around Damascus, including the town of Douma, where the Observatory said large numbers of people were killed or wounded.

Syria’s military, stretched thin by the struggle to keep control in some key areas, has increasingly used air power against opposition areas, where insurgents lack effective anti-aircraft weapons. There were more than 60 raids Monday, the most in a single day so far, the Observatory said.

In the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan, seized by rebels earlier this month, was also hit in airstrikes Tuesday, with seven civilians killed, including four children, it said.

The army has been battling rebels for weeks for control of the town, which is on a key supply route between Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo.

“The rebels have evacuated their positions inside Maarat al-Numaan since the air raids began. They are mostly on the front line south of the town,” activist Mohammad Kanaan said.

On the outskirts of the capital, fierce clashes erupted between rebels and troops backed by Palestinian fighters at the Yarmouk refugee camp, home to 148,500 Palestinians.

Anwar Raja, spokesman for the pro-Damascus Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said its forces clashed for about an hour with rebels trying to infiltrate the camp but that there were no casualties.

At least 36 people, including 22 civilians, were killed Tuesday, the Observatory said in an early toll. In all, the Observatory said more than 500 people had died in fighting over the four days of the supposed cease-fire.

With hopes dashed after his attempts to broker even a temporary truce failed, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due in China in a bid to revive political efforts for peace.

Brahimi was to travel to China from Russia. Both are historic Damascus allies and have repeatedly blocked tough U.N. Security Council action against Assad’s government.

Diplomats say the U.N.-Arab League envoy is to present the council with new proposals in November following the two visits.

But some have suggested the window for talks has closed, with ongoing government violence against an increasingly militarized and fragmented opposition.

In Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed “great sadness” that the cease-fire did not hold and said his country, which was once a strong ally of Assad, will not engage in a dialogue with the Syrian government.

“Unfortunately the attacks continued and the Syrian people spent the holidays suffering great pain,” Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara. “There would be no meaning to forging a dialogue with a regime that pressed ahead with such a massacre even during the holidays.”

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, a vocal supporter of arming the rebels, said the international community’s failure to halt the fighting was making it complicit in the violence.

“What is happening in Syria is not a civil war but a war of extermination against the Syrian people,” he told Al-Jazeera television.

The war, he charged, was being waged “with a license to kill, endorsed firstly by the Syrian government and secondly by the international community.”

It had been hoped the cease-fire would offer some reprieve after 19-months of fighting that has killed at least 32,000 people and an opportunity to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians trapped in the fighting.

The United Nations said it had sent a convoy of 18 trucks with food and other aid to central Homs during the cease-fire, but had been unable to unload supplies in the Old City.

“We were trying to take advantage of positive signs we saw at the end of last week. The truce lasted more or less four hours so there was not much opportunity for us after all,” said Jens Laerke, a U.N. spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 31, 2012, on page 1.




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