Syrian troops yesterday pounded Aleppo to thwart a rebel advance in Syria’s second city, activists said, as Hollywood star Angelina Jolie visited a Jordanian camp for refugees from the conflict.
Violence and bloodshed were reported in other parts of Syria as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was set to meet members of the Syrian opposition in Cairo ahead of a planned visit to Damascus for talks with officials, his spokesman said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague was also in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Syria, amid a diplomatic flurry in the Egyptian capital where Syrian neighbors also gathered to discuss the conflict.
Brahimi would meet “representatives of the Syrian opposition as well as activists and Syrian intellectuals,” his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
The envoy began on Monday what he called a “very difficult” mission to bring peace to Syria, where nearly 18 months of conflict has killed more than 27,000 people according to a watchdog, and more than 20,000 according to the UN.
“I realize it’s a very difficult mission, but I think it is not my right to refuse to give whatever assistance I can to the Syrian people,” Brahimi said in Cairo, adding he planned on going to Damascus within a “few days.”
Syria’s pro-government newspaper al-Watan, quoting a “private” source, said that Brahimi would travel on Saturday to Damascus, where the UN-Arab League envoy said he expected to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and civil society figures.
A day after nearly 140 people were reportedly killed across Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said bombardments by troops saw fighting ground to a standstill in Aleppo amid reports a civilian refuge was struck.
The overnight shelling targeted several Aleppo neighborhoods, said the Britain-based Observatory which relies on activist and witness accounts.
A resident said rebels tried to storm the central Aleppo district of Midan, but were repelled.
“Last night the army launched an operation and pushed them north, back toward Bustan al-Basha,” the source said.
In the Aleppo province town of As-Safira, “mortar fire from an air defense battalion targeted residential buildings and a school, where many refugees from disaster-stricken areas sought refuge and shelter,” according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground.
The Observatory said it was unable to immediately confirm the report.
The UN says more than 1.2 million Syrians, over half of them children, have become internally displaced in the country while an estimated 250,000 refugees sought shelter in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
Their plight was put again under their spotlight yesterday as Jolie, a special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), toured a UN-run camp in northern Jordan along with High Commissioner Antonio Guterres.
“We encourage the international community to do all that it can to support the refugees,” Jolie told a joint news conference at the Zaatari camp, with Guterres and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at her side.
“It is very emotional to be with people who are wondering who is on their side,” said the actress, who in June donated US$100,000 to aid Syrian refugees.
Jordan has said it needs US$700 million in international aid to cope with an influx of refugees from Syria with about 185,000 inside the tiny cash-strapped kingdom, including 26,000 in Zaatari camp.