Last Updated: Mon Oct 22, 2012 17:08 pm (KSA) 14:08 pm (GMT)

Clashes rage in Damascus and Aleppo; ceasefire chances dip

A Syrian man carries a severely wounded boy to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP)
A Syrian man carries a severely wounded boy to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP)

Syrian troops pounded rebels in northern Syria and Damascus province before dawn on Monday, while fierce fighting broke out in Aleppo and the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as an Arab League top official said that hopes of a ceasefire in war-torn Syria during the upcoming Muslim Eid holidays were slim.

On the northeastern outskirts of Damascus, clashes erupted when troops tried to storm the rebel-controlled town of Harasta. On Sunday, scores of civilians and rebels were killed in fighting and shelling there.

In Aleppo, one rebel was killed in the central Midan district at dawn on Monday, while clashes continued through the morning in the southwest rebel district of Salaheddin, Izaa in the north and the Old City in the center.

An AFP correspondent in Aleppo said the Internet connection in Syria’s second city and longtime commercial hub had been restored on Sunday afternoon after being down for a day and a half.

“There was a problem with the main cable between Saraqeb and Maaret al-Numan that carries the Internet from Damascus to Aleppo, but it is fixed now,” a technician for state-run ADSL services told AFP.

Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town in the northwest province of Idlib on the Aleppo-Damascus highway, has been the scene of intense fighting since it fell to rebels on Oct. 9, severing a key army supply route.

On Sunday, the Observatory reported 173 people -- 65 civilians, 46 rebels and 62 government troops -- killed nationwide. A 12-year-old boy died of his wounds from a cluster bomb in the town of Saraqeb the day before.

Rebels had earlier shown AFP debris from cluster bombs they accused the air force of dropping on residential areas, as well as dozens of others that failed to explode.

Human Rights Watch has accused Syria of using cluster bombs, a charge denied by the military, which insists it does not possess them.

More than 34,000 people have been killed since the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March 2011, according to the watchdog.

Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has appealed to both sides of the conflict to observe a truce during the four-day Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins on Friday.

Meanwhile, a senior Arab League official said on Monday that a Muslim holiday this week provides only a small window of hope for agreement on a ceasefire between Syria’s rebels and the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Brahimi has been pushing for a temporary ceasefire to mark the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which will begin on Friday and last over the weekend.

But Ahmed Ben Hilli, deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, told Reuters: “Until now the hope is weak ...”

“The indications that are now apparent and the government’s reaction ... do not show any signs of a real desire to implement this ceasefire,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai.

“We are days away from Eid. We hope the situation changes and the government and opposition respond even a little bit to this door for negotiations.”

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Syrian government and all opposition groups to accept Brahimi’s proposal, calling it “a necessary step toward a long-term ceasefire and the launch of a political process aimed at providing for a Syrian democratic renewal.”

Like Assad, Russia has laid most of the blame for the continuing violence on the rebels, who it says are aided by encouragement and weapons from abroad.

In Damascus on Sunday, Assad told Brahimi the key to any political solution was to stop the arming of the rebels.

Human rights activists say the conflict, which has drawn in regional and international powers backing different sides, has killed more than 34,000 people since protests against Assad erupted in March last year.

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