- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BEIRUT — Syrian warplanes pounded opposition strongholds around Damascus and in the north Wednesday as President Bashar Assad’s forces intensified airstrikes following the failure of a U.N.-backed cease-fire, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers reports from a network of activists on the ground, said government jets carried out five strikes in the eastern Ghouta district, a rebel stronghold close to the capital.

Three airstrikes also hit the rebel-held city of Maaret al-Numan, which straddles a key supply route from Damascus to Aleppo and has become a main front in the civil war.

No casualties were reported in Wednesday’s strikes, the Observatory said.

However, at least 185 people were killed nationwide in airstrikes and artillery shelling the day before, pushing the total death toll since the conflict began in March 2011 to more than 36,000, according to the Observatory’s president Rami Abdul-Rahman.

At least 47 soldiers were also killed Tuesday, the Observatory said.

Syria’s crisis began as a peaceful uprising against Mr. Assad’s regime inspired by the Arab Spring, but it quickly morphed into a civil war.

The international community remains at a loss about how to stop the war. A temporary truce timed to coincide with a major Muslim holiday last week failed to take hold as more than 500 people were killed in fighting during the four-day period.

The U.S. and other Western and Arab nations have called on Mr. Assad to step down, while Russia, China and Iran continue to back him.

The U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met Wednesday with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to solicit Beijing’s support for international efforts to stop the bloodshed.

Mr. Brahimi said he hopes “China can play an active role in solving the events in Syria.”

Mr. Yang said China is willing to work with the international community to make continuous efforts to achieve a “fair, peaceful and appropriate” resolution, according to Xinhua.

In the past weeks, the regime has intensified airstrikes on rebel positions and strongholds, particularly Maaret al-Numan, a city of 180,000 people that fell to rebel forces on Oct. 10.

A former resident of the city said more than 70 homes have been leveled as a result of air bombardments this week alone.

“The Syrian air force doesn’t leave the skies. When the warplane goes, the helicopter comes,” the resident who identified himself as Ahmad told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Most of the city’s inhabitants have fled due to heavy fighting, Ahmad said.

“Everyone has fled, you can’t live here anymore,” he said, adding that rebel groups, including the al Qaeda-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, had flocked to the area to defend it.

The inability to sustain even a limited truce has raised fears of a prolonged conflict in Syria that could drag in its neighbors such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday expressed “great sadness” that the holiday cease-fire had failed and said his government was done talking to Mr. Assad’s regime.

That prompted angry comments from the Syrian government against its former ally.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi accused Turkey of having “destructive policies” against Damascus and claimed Mr. Davutoglu was “targeting the security and stability” of Syria.