Airstrike on rebel-held town kills 25, say reports


AN AIRSTRIKE yesterday on a rebel-held town in northern Syria is reported to have killed at least 25 people and a car bomb five people in the Christian and Druze area of the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, ratcheting up the fatality toll in the 18-month conflict.

Following the strike on a building in al-Bab, a strategic town on the route between the Turkish border and Aleppo, the British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bodies of 10 men, six women and two children had been identified. The army also shelled several Aleppo districts, the Observatory said.

In Damascus, Jaramana, a southeastern suburb, had been a largely peaceful refuge for families fleeing violence until August 28th when a car bomb killed 12 people attending a funeral for two Druze government supporters.

“An armed terrorist group” was blamed by the government for the latest attack.

Concerned over the steady escalation of the conflict, Peter Maurer, the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is in Damascus on a three-day visit.

He is due to meet Syrian president Bashar al-Assad today and to discuss urgent humanitarian issues with foreign minister Walid Muallem and chief of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Abdul Rahman Attar.

“At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of utmost importance that we and the Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response,” Mr Maurer said.

Arab League-UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is set to travel to Damascus on Saturday following extensive discussions at UN headquarters in New York.

Key delegations expressed separate support for his mission. Mr Brahimi said: “Now we have to translate that individual support into collective support.” He assessed his task as “nearly impossible”, saying he is standing in front of a “brick wall” searching for cracks and “if they don’t exist, find ways to go around that wall” to achieve progress.

Addressing the government, he said he is seeking real rather than “cosmetic change”, while he told the opposition, which has criticised his approach, that he is “not joining their movement”.

In response Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoabi said: “The success of Lakhdar Brahimi does not depend on Syria” but on Qatar and Saudi Arabia that arm the opposition, and Turkey which allows armed elements to cross from its territory into Syria.

The six-member Gulf Co-operation Council – comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman – urged the world community to “assume [its] responsibilities and take measures to protect civilians in Syria” from the regime’s “heavy weapons planes and tanks”.

The council’s statement coincided with an appeal by Abdel Basset Sieda, head of the expatriate opposition Syrian National Council, for “military intervention to protect Syrian civilians who have been constantly murdered over the last year and a half”.

During a visit to Madrid, he told Spanish foreign minister Manuel García-Margallo: “The European Union should take the initiative and pressure Russia [which opposes external intervention] so we can lay down some protected areas for refugees.”