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Syria clashes persist despite holiday truce

October 26, 2012 |  5:01 am

BEIRUT -– Despite the beginning of a cease-fire Friday in observance of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, there have been reports of clashes in northern Syria and shelling in various parts of the country.

Three people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, which has been under constant shelling in recent days, as shelling and sniper fire continued in the town’s streets, activists said.

In the city of Maarat Numan, which has been the site of fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and loyalist forces for more than two weeks, government shelling began at 5 a.m. on all parts of the city, said activist Ahmad Halabi. A few hours later when regime forces began moving artillery reinforcements toward the Wadi Daif military post, clashes erupted again and are ongoing, Halabi said.

In Aleppo, activists reported that clashes didn’t stop throughout the night and shelling began early in the afternoon.

“Gunfire is coming down like rain,” one Aleppo resident said. “What kind of a cease-fire is this? And what kind of Eid is this?”

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters came out after morning Eid prayers in Aleppo, Hama, Damascus and Daraa. In some cases activists said government troops shot at the demonstrators.

On Thursday, a day after U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced the cease-fire, the Syrian army agreed to suspend its military operations for four days. The army said it reserved the right to respond to rebel attacks or attempts to reinforce their positions “in consistence with our responsibilities of protecting civilians.”

There was no broad consensus among rebel groups about observing the truce, with some saying they would stop fighting only if regime forces did first, while others said the government needed to release all detainees and withdraw from cities before there could be a cease-fire.

On Friday, state TV showed President Bashar Assad attending Eid prayers at a mosque in the Muhajireen neighborhood in Damascus. It was one of his rare public appearances in recent months ever since an attack in July killed some of his top security officials.

The sermon, state media reported, was a call to Syrians to solve their internal problems through reform and foil the attempts of outsiders to stir up sectarian violence.

From the beginning there was wide skepticism of the proposed cease-fire, given that past attempts to quell the fighting in Syria have failed. In April, Brahimi’s predecessor Kofi Annan brokered a cease-fire that fell apart within days, with each side blaming the other for breaking the truce.

Even though Brahimi was pessimistic about his chances for ending the conflict when he first took on the role, on Wednesday when announcing the truce he said he hoped to “build on it and aim for a lasting and solid cease-fire.” International leaders are still  holding out hope for dialogue and a political transition.

But even if the Eid truce is successful, it is unlikely to last. Rebels have said they will not negotiate with the Assad regime and the government in turn continues to refer to the opposition as “terrorists.”


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-- Raja Abdulrahim

Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad, third from right, participates in Eid al-Adha prayers at a mosque in Damascus. Credit: EPA / SANA