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Syria fighting rages despite major Muslim holiday

Oct. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke billows amid buildings at a bomb explosion Tuesday in Daraya, a countryside of Damscus, Syria.
In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke billows amid buildings at a bomb explosion Tuesday in Daraya, a countryside of Damscus, Syria. (AP)
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BEIRUT — Syrian warplanes bombed several rebel-held areas Tuesday and opposition fighters fired mortar rounds and homemade rockets at Damascus on the first day of a major Muslim holiday, activists said.

The fighting during Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, showed how entrenched both sides have become in Syria’s civil war, now in its third year. Previously, combatants occasionally attempted to observe holiday cease-fires.

The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of Syrians. The land is now a patchwork of rebel- and regime-controlled areas, with front-lines crisscrossing the country.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian regime and the exile-based political opposition must try to meet a mid-November target date for launching talks on a political transition.

However, there is no clear path toward such negotiations, and the main Western-backed opposition group hasn’t decided whether to attend.

In Tuesday’s fighting, rebels fired mortar rounds and homemade rockets at three Damascus neighborhoods, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from activists.

An amateur video distributed by the group shows three rockets being fired, trailed by smoke.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said a mortar shell smashed into a house in the city’s al-Qanawat neighborhood, igniting a fire and wounding four people.

Rebels routinely fire mortar shells at government-held areas of the Syrian capital.

In the village of Yabroud, several dozen miles north of the capital, assailants detonated explosives on the roofs of Our Lady’s Church and the Church of Helena and Constantine, SANA reported.

The explosions damaged the crosses, SANA said. It said attempts to detonate more bombs outside the two churches were foiled.

The Observatory confirmed that several explosions went off, damaging the churches.

There was no claim of responsibility, though SANA blamed “terrorists,” the regime’s term for rebels. Assad has drawn support from Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians. Many rebels are Sunni Muslims, a majority in Syria.

In regime attacks, warplanes bombed targets in the village of Latamneh in the northern Hama province, the Observatory said. Three children were killed and several people were wounded, the group said.

The regime also bombed areas of the Eastern Ghouta district, near Damascus, and the southern city of Daraa, the Observatory said.

As the fighting continued, Assad attended holiday prayers in a Damascus mosque. Syrian state TV showed him sitting cross-legged on the floor, in the front row of worshippers.

Assad continues to appear in public, apparently to send a message of “business as usual” even as large parts of Syria lie in ruins.

Kerry reiterated Monday that Assad “has lost the legitimacy to be able to be a cohesive force that could bring people together.” However, the Syrian leader, with strong backing from Russia, has rejected repeated calls to step aside.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees marked a subdued holiday in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan. The camp is home to more than 120,000 refugees and has turned into Jordan’s fifth-largest city.

A few children bought toys from shops in the camp, as is customary during the holiday, and men attended special Eid prayers, though the refugees said there’s no joy in the holiday.

“We feel bad, we feel bad because everyone here has lost his home and family members and his money,” said Ibrahim Oweis, a refugee from Damascus.

Osama al-Madi, a refugee from the southern city of Daraa, said he opposes transition talks with the regime, as proposed by the U.S.

“In each tent here, you will find people who have lost a martyr or have people in prisons, we have missing people in Assad’s prisons,” he said. “How can we negotiate with a killer regime?”

———

Associated Press writers Maamoun Yousef in Cairo and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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