Syrian ceasefire broken by clashes and air raids


SYRIA’S HOLIDAY ceasefire was yesterday broken both by regime troops and rebels as military aircraft bombed restive towns near Damascus and insurgents clashed with Kurdish militiamen in Aleppo.

Activists said the towns of Harasta, Irbin and Zamalka, northeast of Damascus, were the focus of three air raids. Clashes erupted in Douma, 10km (6.2 miles) north of the capital, where well-established rebel fighters seized military checkpoints.

Rebel forces also continued efforts to push into the Kurdish majority district of Ashrafiyeh in Aleppo, which had been largely peaceful since unrest began 19 months ago. The rebel offensive against fighters of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which left 30 dead, was condemned by the British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The organisation said the attack on the Kurds, who have been trying to stay out of the conflict, worked “in the interests of the regime” as it promoted sectarianism.

The rebel forces involved in the assault belong to the radical Muslim fundamentalist Jabhat al-Nusra Front and the Battalion of Muhammad’s Soldiers, which reject the truce and were expected to act as spoilers.

The Free Syrian Army, with leverage on some local militia groups, had accepted the ceasefire.

State news agency Sana reported scores of “ceasefire violations” by rebel factions, including attacks on army checkpoints and the car bombing of a church in the eastern oil hub of Deir al-Zor.

In response, activists said mortars were being fired into residential neighbourhoods of the city, half controlled by government forces, half held by rebels.

Damascus accused rebels of torpedoing the ceasefire, insisting that its forces only responded to provocations. State media blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which finance and arm the rebels, for the resurgence of violence.

“These terrorist groups are not the masters of their own decisions and generally follow foreign parties that have no interest in stopping the bloodshed,” government daily al-Thawra editorialised.

Of the 150 people killed on Friday, the first day of the ceasefire, 43 were troops, the human rights observatory said. On Saturday 114 died, including 47 civilians, 36 soldiers and 31 rebels.

While these figures are high, they are considerably lower than the daily average before the imposition of the ceasefire, proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. It is due to end today, the fourth and final day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

Early next month, Mr Brahimi is expected to present to the UN Security Council fresh ideas for launching talks between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the opposition. He is due to travel to Moscow and Beijing this week to discuss the situation.

The observatory estimates the overall death toll at 33,000, while the UN puts fatalities at 18,000 to 20,000. The UN has registered 350,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and identified another 1.2 million Syrians who are displaced within their country.

Meanwhile, for a second time, Iraq interdicted and searched a Syria-bound aircraft flying from Iran for weapons before permitting it to continue to Damascus. Humanitarian goods and medical supplies were found but there were no banned weapons.