Slim hope of truce as fighting rages on in Syrian battlefields
23 October, 2012
DAMASCUS: Hopes of a truce being implemented in war-torn Syria during this week's Muslim Eid holidays are 'slim', the Arab League said on Monday, as heavy fighting erupted in Damascus and on northern battlefields.
UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had on Sunday indicated a favourable response to his appeal to both sides of the Syrian conflict to observe a truce during the four-day Eidul Azha holiday, which begins on Friday.
But Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli told AFP on Monday that there was little chance of such a truce coming into effect.
"Unfortunately, hope for implementing the truce during Eidul Azha is slim so far," Ben Helli said on the sidelines of the World Energy Forum in Dubai.
"The signs, both on the ground and by the government do not point to the presence of any real will" to implement a ceasefire, he said.
Even as Ben Helli spoke, fierce fighting raged across Syria, including around Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and the rebel-held town of Maaret al Numan in the northwest province of Idlib. Reports also emerged of the abduction of two regime officials from Daraa in the south.
Brahimi said a truce during Eidul Azha could allow the start of a more permanent peace initiative.
"This is a call to every Syrian, on the street, in the village, fighting in the regular army and its opponents, for them to take a unilateral decision to stop hostilities," he said on Sunday.
Brahimi said he contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria and armed groups in the country and "found them to be very favourable" to the idea of a truce.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad during a meeting with Brahimi said he was "open to any sincere efforts seeking to find a political solution to the crisis based on respecting Syria's sovereignty and rejecting any foreign interference", state media reported. Al Baath newspaper, the ruling party's mouthpiece, seemed cold to the idea however, saying rebels had already given their reply: a bomb attack on Sunday in Bab Touma, a Christian quarter of Damascus, in which 13 people died. "Armed terrorist groups responded to Brahimi's ceasefire appeal with a series of explosions in Damascus, including a suicide bombing in Bab Touma, leaving dozens dead or injured," it said.
On the ground, there was no sign on Monday of a let-up in the violence.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes erupted in the morning when troops tried to storm the rebel-controlled town of Harasta on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus.
It also said Syrian soldiers fought pitched battles with rebels near Maaret al Numan and around an army base in nearby Wadi Daif, in Idlib province.
According to the watchdog, Monday's clashes were the fiercest seen yet around Wadi Daif base, which has been besieged for nearly two weeks by Free Syrian Army fighters and jihadist militants.
The observatory said a checkpoint near the base was in flames after it was attacked by the rebels, who killed at least nine soldiers. Maaret al Numan, a strategic town on the Aleppo-Damascus highway, has been the scene of intense fighting since it fell to rebels on October 9, severing a key army supply route.