Holiday ceasefire in Syria crumbles amid deadly fighting

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 3:35am

A powerful car bomb exploded in Damascus yesterday, inflicting many casualties and shattering a shaky temporary truce in the Syrian conflict on the occasion of a Muslim religious holiday.

State television said the "terrorist car bomb" had killed five people and wounded 32, according to "preliminary figures".

Opposition activists said the bomb had gone off near a makeshift children's playground built for the Eid al-Adha holiday in the southern Daf al-Shok district of the capital.

Fighting erupted around Syria earlier as both sides violated the ceasefire arranged by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but violence was far less intense than usual.

The Syrian military said it had responded to attacks by insurgents on army positions, in line with its announcement on Thursday that would cease military activity during the four-day holiday, but reserved the right to react to rebel actions.

Brahimi's ceasefire appeal had won international support, including from Russia, China and Iran, President Bashar al-Assad's main foreign allies.

The UN-Arab League envoy had hoped to build on the truce to calm a 19-month-old conflict that has killed an estimated 32,000 people and worsened instability in the Middle East.

Violence appeared to wane in some areas, but truce breaches by both sides swiftly marred Syrians' hopes of celebrating Eid al-Adha, the climax of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, in peace.

"We are not celebrating Eid here," said a woman in a besieged Syrian town near the Turkish border, speaking above the noise of incessant gunfire and shelling. "No one is in the mood to celebrate. Everyone is just glad they are alive."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 47 people were killed. The Britain-based watchdog, which said the truce collapsed in several regions, gave an early evening death toll of 47 dead - 16 civilians, 19 soldiers and 12 rebels.

The heaviest fighting took place around the army base at Wadi al-Daif, near the Damascus-Aleppo highway, which rebels have been trying to seize from the army for two weeks.

Assad himself, who has vowed to defeat what he says are Islamist fighters backed by Syria's enemies abroad, was shown on state television attending Eid prayers at a Damascus mosque.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse