The Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday got off to a bloody start in Syria, with at least 84 people killed across the country, most of them soldiers and the capital, Damascus, rocked by clashes, a watchdog said yesterday.
The fresh surge of violence on Sunday, the first day of the Eid festivities, came as new UN peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said it was no longer a question of “preventing civil war” in Syria, but rather ending it.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 bodies were found in Al-Tall village, a rebel stronghold in Damascus Province and that another 34 soldiers, 28 civilians and 22 rebels died across the country on Sunday.
The Britain-based Observatory, which gathers its information from a network of activists on the ground, reported clashes between rebels and loyalist troops in several southern Damascus neighborhoods, where loud explosions were heard.
Opposition activists of the Syrian Revolution General Commission also said the army used tanks and machineguns to pound the Damascus suburb of Maadamiet Al-Sham through the night.
Aleppo, the main northern city which lies near the Turkish border, has borne the brunt of the conflict since fighting erupted there a month ago, with the regime warning it would be the scene of the “mother of all battles.” Syrians have had to face food shortages, the closure of many shops and street demonstrations at Eid, the festival celebrated by Muslims across the world to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance with top officials for Eid prayers at a Damascus mosque on Sunday, while demonstrators took to the streets of the capital and other cities to vent their rage at his regime.
UN observers wound up their troubled mission on Sunday in the face of the escalating violence and a failure by world powers to agree on how to tackle al-Assad and bring about peace to the strategically vital Middle East state.
The end of the mission came just days after new international envoy Brahimi was named to replace Kofi Annan.
“There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria, me I believe that we are already there for some time now. What’s necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy,” Brahimi said.
Meanwhile the UN has added that it may need to create a “safe zone” within the conflict-ridden state to accommodate a growing number of refugees from the fighting there, Turkey’s foreign minister was quoted as saying yesterday.
Turkey, already hosting nearly 70,000 Syrians fleeing the 17-month-old revolt against al-Assad’s regime, may soon be unable to cope, Ahmet Davutoglu told the Hurriyet newspaper.
“If the number of refugees in Turkey surpasses 100,000, we will run out of space to accommodate them. We should be able to accommodate them in Syria. The UN may build camps in a safe zone within Syria’s borders,” he was quoted as saying.
Syrian rebels have expanded the territory they hold near the Turkish border in the last few weeks and opposition groups have said they need the protection of no-fly zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces.
A no-fly zone and a NATO bombing campaign helped Libyan rebels overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year. The West has shown little appetite for repeating any Libya-style action in Syria and Russia and China strongly oppose any such intervention.