Fighting raged in Aleppo Monday as rebels doggedly resisted a regime onslaught launched in the northern city a month ago, amid warnings by new peace envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi of full-out civil war in Syria.
Clashes also erupted in part of the capital Damascus as a watchdog reported at least 84 people killed across Syria on the first day Sunday of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday and the U.N. wound up its troubled observer mission to the country.
Aleppo, the main northern city which lies near the Turkish border, has borne the brunt of the conflict since fighting erupted there on July 20 after the regime warned it would be the scene of the “mother of all battles.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops backed by helicopters pounded several Aleppo sectors on Monday, including parts of Salaheddine neighborhood where much of the regime’s military operations against the rebels have been focused.
Despite claiming to have overrun Salaheddine on August 8, the rebels still control pockets of the southwestern neighborhood, according to the Britain-based Observatory and activists on the ground.
Parts of Damascus too were rocked by clashes on Monday, with the Observatory, which gathers its information from a network of activists on the ground, reporting fighting in several southern Damascus neighborhoods, where loud explosions were heard.
Opposition activists of the Syrian Revolution General Commission also said the army used tanks and machineguns to pound the Damascus suburb of Maadamiet Al-Sham through the night.
Besides the fighting, Syrians have had to face food shortages, the closure of many shops, and street demonstrations at Eid, the festival celebrated by Muslims across the world to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance with top officials for Eid prayers at a Damascus mosque on Sunday, while demonstrators took to the streets of the capital and other cities to vent their rage at his regime.
“Eid is here, Eid is here, God curse you, O Bashar,” protesters in Qudsaya in Damascus province sang to the tune of Jingle Bells, according to amateur video posted on YouTube.
U.N. observer mission ends
U.N. observers wound up their troubled mission at midnight on Sunday in the face of the escalating violence and a failure by world powers to agree on how to tackle Assad and bring about peace to the strategically vital Middle East state.
Created after a U.N. Security Council resolution in April, a team of some 300 truce monitors was progressively deployed into Syria as part of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end the conflict.
It was suspended in June and numbers cut back because of the mounting violence, as both sides violated a ceasefire that was meant to have been the cornerstone of Annan's plan.
The end of the mission came just days after new international envoy Brahimi was named to replace Annan.
“A civil war, it is the cruelest kind of conflict, when a neighbor kills his neighbor and sometimes his brother, it is the worst of conflicts,” Brahimi said in an interview with France 24 television in Paris.
“There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria, me I believe that we are already there for some time now. What’s necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy.”
Assad, from the minority Alawite community of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has characterized the conflict as a battle against a foreign “terrorist” plot aided by the West and its allies in the region, led by Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Jordan meanwhile said four rockets fired from neighboring Syria fell inside its northern border area, wounding a four-year-old girl and sparking a letter of protest.
“We are in
touch with the Syrian sides to determine what happened,” Information Minister and government spokesman Samih Maaytah told AFP.
“The Jordanian government summoned the Syrian ambassador in Amman and gave him a letter of protest. Jordan rejects what happened and will make sure it does not occur in the future,” Maaytah said.
Jordan currently hosts more than 150,000 Syrian refugees. Many of them come under Syrian army fire as they flee to the kingdom, whose troops provide covering fire.
Turkish authorities on Sunday crossed the Syrian border to distribute food and other supplies to hundreds of Syrians who have been forced from their homes and are massed at the border, emergency officials in the region said.
Syria’s popular uprising, which began in March 2011, has spiraled into an armed conflict with more than 23,000 people killed, according to the Observatory. The United Nations puts the death toll at 17,000.
It is impossible to verify the figures.