DAMASCUS: International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to head to Damascus Thursday to meet Syria’s President Bashar Assad, an Arab diplomat in Cairo said, as fresh bloodshed gripped the north of the country.
In a single incident, rebels killed at least 18 soldiers in a car bomb and ground attack on a military position in Idlib province of northwest Syria, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Four Syrian Armenians were also killed and 13 wounded in the war-battered commercial capital Aleppo on the way home from the airport after a trip to Yerevan.
Speaking of the assault in Idlib, Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said, “there were 70 to 100 soldiers there when the attack occurred” in the town of Saraqeb.
“Twenty soldiers escaped, and clashes are still going on,” he added, saying details of the incident were still sketchy and that he could not say whether the car bombing was a suicide attack.
He also said rebels had encircled two other army positions near Saraqeb and fired rockets on checkpoints elsewhere in the province.
Meanwhile, a friend of the Syrian Armenians who died in Aleppo told AFP: “It’s not obvious who opened fire, but the result is that five cars were attacked and four Armenians were killed and 13 or 14 others were wounded ... Some say it was the FSA (Free Syrian Army), but it’s not clear. We don’t have proof and we should wait and see. I don’t think the FSA would attack random cars in the street.”
He said that one of those killed “had left his family behind in Armenia, his wife and kids. He had gone back to take care of some things in Aleppo and then return.”
Outside Aleppo, fighting erupted at dawn in the Nayrab area, around 5 kilometers from the airport, which remained fully operational, the Observatory said.
Over the past several weeks, rebels have taken to attacking military air fields in an attempt to prevent them from being used for launching airstrikes, while commercial facilities have been left unscathed.
Meanwhile, the army shelled a string of neighborhoods in central Aleppo, including Suleiman al-Halabi, Sheikh Khodr and Qadi Askar, the Observatory said.
Helicopter gunships also strafed the rebel district of Bustan al-Basha, a witness said, and the Observatory reported that rebels used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a security branch in the adjacent Midan neighborhood.
Elsewhere, a boy and a girl were killed and dozens of civilians wounded when the army shelled the rebel village of Latamneh in the central province of Hama, said the Observatory, which gathers its information from a wide network of activists.
Also in Hama, the Observatory reported Wednesday afternoon that 20 bodies, including those of two children, had been found in farmlands in Halfaya village over the previous 24 hours, following an assault by government forces.
In eastern Syria, troops shelled several districts of Deir al-Zor city, and an unspecified number of people were killed in airstrikes on the town of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq, the Observatory said.
Overall, at least 44 people – 22 soldiers, 17 civilians and five rebels – died in Syria Wednesday, the Observatory said. More than 27,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad broke out in March 2011, according to Observatory figures.
In Cairo, an Arab League diplomat said U.N.-Arab League envoy Brahimi would head for Damascus Thursday and meet with Assad the following day, but gave no further details.
The international envoy, replacing former U.N. chief Kofi Annan who quit in August over U.N. Security Council divisions on the conflict that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, kicked off his peace mission with talks in Cairo.
On Tuesday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Brahimi would meet Assad in Damascus and insisted that “the violence must stop by both sides.”
He told reporters in Bern that he understood the frustration felt by many in the face of the Security Council’s apparent paralysis in dealing with the spiraling crisis.
But “while we may be frustrated and troubled by not being able to address the situation in Syria, which has reached intolerable circumstances,” he said, “we should not be overly pessimistic about the strength and the commitment of the international community, especially the international organizations.”
“Those countries who might have influence over two parties should exercise” that influence and work toward “a political resolution reflecting the genuine aspirations of the Syrian people,” Ban added.