Fighting mars Syria holiday truce; protests resume
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrians took to the streets for the largest anti-regime protests in months in several cities Friday, taking advantage a lull in fighting as a cease-fire took effect at the start of a Muslim holiday. But scattered violence including battles over a northern military base and a Damascus suburb illustrated the difficulty of maintaining even a limited truce.
The Syrian military has agreed to cease military operations for four days beginning Friday morning with the start of the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, in line with a truce proposed by international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.
But there were no arrangements for monitoring compliance, and past cease-fire efforts have collapsed as both sides refused to lay down their arms.
Clashes erupted over a military base outside the strategic town of Maaret al-Numan in the north, and five people were killed in government shelling and sniper fire in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, activists said.
Fighting also was reported in several other parts of the country as the day progressed. The violence underscored the complexity of the situation, with the badly fragmented opposition sending mixed signals about the truce, some endorsing it and others rejecting it as irrelevant.
President Bashar Assad’s government accepted the truce but left significant loopholes, declaring it would respond to any rebel attack or attempts by foreign forces to intervene.
Still, a decline in violence elsewhere allowed protesters in Damascus and several other cities to pour into the streets in numbers not seen in months.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said protesters rallied after holiday prayers in Aleppo, the central province of Homs and the city of Hama. Demonstrators also took to the streets in the suburbs of Damascus and the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising began. Three people were wounded when troops tried to disperse protesters in Deraa, the group said.
In the Damascus suburb of Kfar Batna, Syrians waved rebel flags, cheered, clapped and in some cases danced to revolutionary songs, according to a video posted online.
“May God curse your soul Hafez,” they shouted in the Damascus suburb of Kfar Batna, in reference to Bashar’s father and the late Syrian president, Hafez Assad. “Syria wants freedom,” the protesters added, according to a video posted online.
“You will fall, Bashar!” shouted protesters in Douma, another video showed.
The videos appeared consistent with AP’s reporting on the demonstrations in the area.
Mohammed Saeed, an activist based in Aleppo, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war, said the city was “relatively calm” despite shelling in several areas and clashes near the city’s military airport that killed at least four people.
He said via Skype that marches took place in the neighborhoods of al-Shaar, Hanano and Bustan al-Qasr as well as several suburbs.
The festive and mostly peaceful protests were reminiscent of the mass demonstrations that ignited the civil war in March 2011. In recent months, gatherings have been much smaller, a result of a brutal crackdown by the Assad regime and fighting in the streets.