Envoy appeals to Iran over Syria

Mon, Oct 15, 2012, 01:00

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi appealed to Iran to help arrange a ceasefire in Syria during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha as rebels and government forces fought street by street and village by village today.

Mr Brahimi made the request in talks with Iranian leaders yesterday in Tehran, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's closest regional ally in his campaign to crush a 19-month-old uprising.

The Algerian diplomat said the civil war in Syria was getting worse by the day and stressed the urgent need to stop the bloodshed, his spokesman said.

He suggested the truce be held during the Eid holiday, which starts on October 25th and lasts several days. It would "help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop".

There was no immediate response from either side and with fighting raging on today in several Syrian cities and in the countryside, it was not clear if they would want to put the brakes on any battlefield advantages.

The crucial strategic battles in a conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives since March 2011 are being fought in an arc through western Syria, where most of the population lives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two rebel-held districts in northeast Aleppo, al-Shaar and Karm al-Jabal, came under heavy bombardment from Dr Assad's forces today. It also reported fierce clashes in the district of Jdeideh, just north of the ancient citadel in Syria's biggest city.

Syrian television showed footage of soldiers inside Aleppo's Great Mosque, which dates back to the 8th century and was badly damaged in fighting between government forces and rebels battling for control of the Old City.

The mosque's medieval arches were charred, its elaborate wooden panels smashed and metal filigree lanterns lay broken in the courtyard. The sound of nearby gunfire could be heard.

Dr Assad issued a decree today establishing a committee to restore the mosque, though it was not clear how that would happen with fighting still raging in Aleppo.

In north-western Idlib province, government warplanes bombed several towns on today, the pro-opposition Observatory said.

Rebels had surrounded an army garrison yesterday close to a north-western town in the latest push to seize more territory near the border with Turkey, opposition activists said.

Several hundred soldiers were trapped in the siege of a base in Urum al-Sughra, on the main road between Aleppo and Turkey.

"Rebels attacked an armoured column sent from Aleppo to rescue the 46th Regiment at Urum al-Sughra and stopped it in its tracks," Firas Fuleifel, one of the activists, told Reuters. He said a jet was shot down while trying to provide air support to the column.

Dr Assad's forces still control the city of Idlib on a main highway linking Aleppo to the port of Latakia, making the route an important rebel target.

On the border with Turkey's Hatay province, the rebels appeared to have a tentative hold after four days of heavy fighting in the town of Azmarin and surrounding villages.

Reuters