- Bashar al-Assad - Syria - unrest
Syria's Eid ceasefire shattered as violence erupts
A ceasefire in Syria brokered to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was violated on Friday when a car bomb went off outside a mosque in southern Damascus and heavy fighting broke out near a military base.
At least eight people were killed and more than 30 were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in southern Damascus on Friday, undermining a ceasefire that came into effect at dawn.
"The explosion of a booby-trapped car outside the Omar bin Khattab mosque in the area known as Shorta in the Daf Shawk district killed and wounded dozens of people," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group said another deadly bombing took place farther south in Daraa.
Fighting raged earlier in the day near a military base in northern Syria even as the ceasefire was supposed to be in effect, highlighting the difficulty of enforcing even a temporary truce in a country wracked by civil war.
The ceasefire agreement, proposed by joint UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and endorsed by the Security Council, was to be in force for only the four days of the Eid al-Adha holiday. But the agreement faced difficulties from the beginning, as it has no mechanism for monitoring the truce and no stated plans for what follows next.
Elsewhere in Syria, thousands of protesters took advantage of the lull to mount some of the largest anti-regime demonstrations in months.
The first significant disruption involved a radical Islamic group, Jabhat al-Nusra, that rejected the ceasefire from the outset. The group clashed Friday with regime forces for control of a military base outside of a strategic town on the road to the northern city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Opposition fighters seized Maaret al-Numan, which lies along the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus, earlier this month. Their presence has disrupted the ability of the Syrian army to send supplies and reinforcements to the northwest, where troops are bogged down in a stalemate with the rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its commercial capital.
The latest fighting showed the complexity of the situation, with the badly fragmented opposition sending mixed signals about the truce, some endorsing it but others rejecting it as irrelevant.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government accepted the truce but left significant loopholes, declaring it would respond to any rebel attack or attempts by foreign forces to intervene.
The army fired artillery shells into several areas on Friday, including in Aleppo and suburbs of Damascus, but overall the level of fighting appeared to drop significantly.
If the truce holds, it would be the first lull in 19 months of violence that began with mass demonstrations but which has become a full-blown civil war with sectarian overtones and tens of thousands of dead.
Earlier attempts by mediators to bring about a ceasefire failed, though elements of both sides had accepted truce proposals.
Protesters take to the streets
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said protesters rallied after holiday prayers Friday in Aleppo, in the central province of Homs and in the city of Hama.
Demonstrators also took to the streets in the suburbs of Damascus and across the southern province of Deraa, where three people were wounded when troops tried to disperse protesters, the group said.
Activists said three more people were killed in the shelling of the Damascus suburb of Harasta and two people died as a result of sniper fire. There were no reports of clashes or protests at the time of the attacks, the rights group said.
More than 35,000 people have been killed, including more than 8,000 government troops, since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to activists.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)