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October 29, 2012

Air Strikes in Syrian Capital Shatter Truce

by Edward Yeranian

Syria's Eid al Adha holiday truce is in tatters as Syrian warplanes bombed rebel targets Monday in the Damascus suburbs in what activists say was the fiercest air raid campaign in the capital since the uprising began 19 months ago. Also, a car bomb explosion hit a mostly pro-government suburb of Damascus, killing at least 10 people.

Syrian state television showed firefighters and neighbors picking through mounds of rubble and twisted metal after a car bomb exploded in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana.

Residents told state media that the explosion took place in front of a bakery in a civilian area with no military targets. The southeastern district is controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But one resident questioned to state media why anyone would bomb the area.

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Multiple raids around Damascus

He said that Jaramana is known for being a peaceful area, where everyone gets along well.

The car bomb attack came as the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets carried out at least six raids on other areas of the capital, including Rankous and Harasta.

The opposition group reported intense clashes as troops attempt to regain control from anti-government rebels. An opposition activist said "more than 100 buildings were destroyed" during Monday's attacks and that "whole neighborhoods are deserted."

Earlier, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and told a news conference they were disappointed that neither the government nor the rebels were observing a Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday truce.

Finger pointing by both sides

The government and opposition blame each other for breaking the truce.

Brahimi, however, said he would not give up on the peace process.

“I'm terribly sorry, just as Sergei has said he was, that this appeal has not been heard to the level we hoped it would. But that will not discourage us because Syria is very important and because the people of Syria deserve our support and our interest," said Brahimi. "So we shall continue to work as hard as we possibly can, with the cooperation of everybody inside and outside Syria, to bring the level of violence down.”

Brahimi said he preferred to call the cease-fire a “pause,” and said he had not negotiated extensively with either side to implement it. He also said that Syria “needs real and not just cosmetic change.”

“That change,” he said, “must be worked out by the Syrians... with a Syrian-led process” and “supported by the international community.”

Death toll climbs

Middle East analyst Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said the cease-fire was ineffective since neither side saw an interest in observing one.

"There was no real cease-fire. The parties involved had no interest in going right now into a cease-fire. It was apparent that both sides agreed to the cease-fire just to avoid taking the blame for not agreeing to a cease-fire. I think from Brahimi's side, it is a way to show that he is trying to do something,” said Kahwaji.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed deep disappointment that the cease-fire failed to take hold. During a speech Monday in South Korea, Ban called on the international community to do more to help stop the fighting.

The Observatory, an opposition watchdog, said 420 people have been killed since Friday.