Truce urged as bomb rocks Damascus

NO END TO FIGHTING::Clashes were being reported yesterday in several parts of Syria, including Damascus Province and Aleppo, a key battleground for the past three months


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 - Page 6

Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi urged the two sides in Syria’s conflict to declare unilateral truces for this week’s Muslim holidays after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as a deadly bomb rocked Damascus.

The bomb exploded outside a police station in a Christian quarter of the Old City, killing seven people and wounding many others, officials and state media said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a toll of 10 dead and 15 wounded as a car bomb blew up outside the station in Bab Tuma, where many in the minority community fear Islamists in the anti-Assad revolt.

The bombing came as UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi, after holding talks with al-Assad, called for “unilateral” ceasefires by the regime and the rebels for the Eid al-Adha holiday that starts on Friday.

“I appeal to everyone to take a unilateral decision to cease hostilities on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and that this truce be respected from today or tomorrow,” Brahimi told reporters.

On Saturday, Brahimi also pressed his demand for a truce in the 19-month bloodshed with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition leaders tolerated by the regime.

The foreign ministry said Muallem discussed with Brahimi “a halt to the violence ... in order to prepare for a global Syrian dialogue, free of any foreign intervention.”

“Such a dialogue is the only way to emerge from the crisis,” it said.

Muallem also complained to Brahimi about regional countries that Syria accuses of hosting, arming and training rebels, saying their actions were undermining the envoy’s mission.

Syria has repeatedly blamed its neighbor Turkey, as well as energy-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for supporting the armed insurgency.

Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, a tolerated opposition group not involved in the armed revolt, voiced support for the proposed truce.

Such a ceasefire could pave the way for a political process if it was broadened to include the release of prisoners held by the regime and the supply of medical aid to beleaguered citizens, he said.

Brahimi has visited several countries with influence in the Syrian conflict over the past week, including Lebanon and Iran, while warning that the violence could spread and set the entire region ablaze.

These fears were compounded when a massive car bomb exploded on Friday in Beirut, killing at least eight people including a senior police intelligence chief linked to the anti-Damascus camp in Lebanon, General Wissam al-Hassan.

Lebanon, which was under Syrian military and political domination for 30 years until 2005, has been divided over the conflict in Syria and the scene of violence between supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime.

On the ground, clashes were reported yesterday in several parts of Syria, including Damascus province and the northern city of Aleppo, a key battleground for the past three months.

Clashes and shelling were also reported in the town of Harasta, north of the capital, the Observatory said, adding that regime forces bombed orchards in the nearby towns of Douma and Zamalka.

Bodies of a woman and five children were removed from under the rubble in the town of Saqba in Damascus Province, while fierce fighting was reported in the capital’s Assali district.

The Britain-based Observatory said 130 people died in violence across the country on Saturday, adding to its estimated toll of more than 34,000 killed since March last year.