- Associated Press - Monday, August 20, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces on Monday heavily shelled the cities of Aleppo and Daraa and a suburb of Damascus on the second day of a major Muslim holiday, killing up to 30 people, rights groups and activists said.

There was a relative lull in the civil war on Sunday, the first of three days of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. During the holiday, Muslims the world over celebrate by wearing new clothes, feasting on sumptuous food and visiting the graves of loved ones. The renewed fighting, however, showed President Bashar Assad’s regime is not letting up on its drive to quell the 17-month-old uprising out of respect for the occasion.

Activists reported no signs of jubilation across the battered nation, with smaller-than-usual turnout for traditional prayers on the first day of the holiday and an air of gloom blanketing major cities.

Adding to the despair, two main activist groups — the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees — said that 10 bodies of adult men shot execution style were found in the Qaboun district in the capital, Damascus. The discovery of bodies in similar condition is not uncommon in Syria, particularly in the past few months, as the uprising descended into a civil war with heavy sectarian undertones.


Anti-regime activists say some 20,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Mr. Assad’s rule began in March 2011.

Even the U.N.’s new envoy to Syria acknowledged on Sunday that he had no concrete ideas to end the conflict and that his mission would be difficult without a unified position by the U.N. Security Council.

“The problem is not what I can do differently, it is how others are going to behave differently,” Lakhdar Brahimi told the Associated Press at his Paris home on Sunday. “If they spoke in one voice and were clearly supportive of what I will be doing on their behalf, that is what I need,” Mr. Brahimi said of what he seeks from the Security Council. “Without a unified voice from the Security Council, I think it will be difficult,” the former Algerian foreign minister added.

Mr. Brahimi was named Friday to replace former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as peace envoy to Syria. Mr. Brahimi served as a U.N. envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq and helped negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war as an Arab League envoy. He said Mr. Annan’s mission failed “because the international community was not as supportive as he needed them to be.”

Russia and China have used their veto power at the Security Council to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against the regime of Syria’s Assad.

The rights groups and activists said the latest assaults by tanks and warplanes caused two houses to collapse in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, killing at least 14 people. The buildings were in the Al-Sakhour and Qadi Askar neighborhoods, said activist Mohammed Saeed, reached by Skype inside the city.

Aleppo has been the scene of daily battles for several weeks now, with forces loyal to Mr. Assad trying to wrest control from the rebels without making much headway.

Mr. Saeed also said that fighting raged inside the city with rebel forces making advances in the districts of Al-Jadidah and Maadi Telal.

The reports from the activists and groups — the British-based Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees — could not be independently verified.

In the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the uprising, intense fighting between government troops and rebels killed six people, including two children and two women, the activist groups said.

An activist in the Damascus area, El-Said Mohammed, said seven people were killed and at least 70 wounded when government forces shelled the suburb of Moadamiyeh with tanks and mortars. He said some 30 troops along with a tank defected to the rebels’ side on Sunday, which may have been the reason for Monday’s shelling.

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