Syrian Troops Battle Insurgents as Cease-Fire Violated

Syrian Army Accepts Muslim Holiday Cease-Fire as Violence Rages
Free Syria Army (FSA) fighters battle with regime loyalist soldiers in Syria's northern city of Aleppo. Photographer: Javier Manzano/AFP/Getty Images

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fought with rebels in the capital, Damascus, and other cities on the first day of a United Nations-brokered cease-fire to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees said troops killed 97 people across the country yesterday, including 39 in or around Damascus. There were at least 287 violations of the truce, it said in an e-mailed statement.

The fighting is a “clear violation of the cease-fire,” the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail. Syrian state television, citing an army statement, blamed “terrorists” for breaching the cease-fire in areas including Idlib, Homs, Deir Azzour, Daraa and suburbs of Damascus.

At least 35,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s government began 19 months ago, according to the observatory. The UN has registered more than 350,000 Syrians who have fled from their homeland to escaped the conflict that has spilled over into Lebanon and Turkey.

A car bomb exploded near the Omar bin al-Khattab mosque in Damascus yesterday, leaving dozens dead and wounded and destroying several homes, the observatory said. Syrian TV reported five deaths and 32 injuries in the blast.

“It was always very unlikely that the cease-fire was going to work,” Torbjorn Soltvedt, a senior Middle East analyst at Bath, U.K.-based risk-advisory firm Maplecroft, said yesterday by phone. “None of the underlying issues have been addressed. As the opposition is so fragmented, a fully effective cease-fire was going to be very hard to achieve.”

Government Camp

Fighting broke out early yesterday at a government camp near Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province between rebels and pro-Assad forces, the observatory said. At least nine government soldiers were killed when rebels bombarded a building inside the government’s Wadi al-Deif encampment and four opposition fighters died during battles around its perimeter, the observatory said on its Facebook page.

Syrian TV said Oct. 25 that the army would recognize the truce while reserving the right to respond to rebel attacks.

The agreement to respect the truce negotiated by UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, is the first time since April that the two sides said they would stop fighting. While neither side upheld the previous cease-fire, arranged by Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, the truce slowed the tempo of killing for a few days.

More than 140 Syrians were killed in fighting Oct. 25, the observatory said on its Facebook page, adding that 71 civilians including five youngsters and 29 rebel fighters were among the dead.

Defuse Violence

“The idea that you can have a comprehensive cease-fire is unimplementable,” Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group Ltd., said by phone from London yesterday. “The cease-fire is an opportunity to de-escalate and reach a lower level of violence.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it would send 550 metric tons of supplies to 13,000 Syrian families in previously inaccessible areas if the truce holds. About 1.2 million people in Syria need emergency humanitarian aid, the Geneva-based agency said in an Oct. 25 statement.

Saudi Arabia said two days ago it deported three people working in Syria’s consulate in Jeddah after concluding that “their behaviors are incompatible with their consular duties and assignments,” according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which cited a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement.

The kingdom, which is hosting Islam’s annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, closed its embassy in Damascus in March, a month after expelling Syria’s ambassador to Riyadh.

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