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Bloodshed persists in Syria on Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr

Activists report more than 150 people killed in Syria's conflict on a day Muslims observe the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

August 20, 2012|By Los Angeles Times Staff

BEIRUT — In the Syrian town of Talbiseh on Sunday, residents heralded the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan on a tank, chanting anti-government slogans.

Young children played on swings hanging from the tank's turret.

Across the country, Syrians shared a somber Eid al-Fitr holiday as bloodshed continued. Activists reported more than 150 people killed, a death toll that has become the new normal as the conflict has reached every part of the country.

"What Eid? There is no Eid today," said Abu Sufyan, with the Aleppo Military Council, which is coordinating the rebel offensive. "No one celebrated today."

On the outskirts of Aleppo, clashes continued for a third day between rebels and the Syrian army as the opposition tried to seize what has become an important military base. For weeks, the government has sent out helicopters and fighter jets to bombard the city's neighborhoods, activists said.

And as government forces continued to pound towns and cities Sunday, President Bashar Assad attended prayers to observe Eid festivities in Damascus, the capital.

State media showed photos of Assad praying at the Hamad mosque in the Mohajirin neighborhood; elsewhere in the capital and its suburbs, activists said 47 people were killed.

It was Assad's first public appearance since July 19, the day after a bombing killed four of his top security officials, and was a chance to strike out at much of the international community, which has condemned his violent crackdown on the opposition.

"The conspiracy and terrorism against Syria by an American, Zionist, Western, Arab [and] Wahhabi … alliance will never defeat the faith, Islam, and determination in Syria," Sheik Mohamad Khir Ghantous said in his sermon, state media reported.

Syria's enemies want to "dismember us, setting the flame of war and sedition among us," the cleric added.

A number of Assad's top ministers attended the prayers but notably absent was Vice President Farouk Shara. The government denied reports Saturday that Shara had defected, following in the path of other high-level officials, including Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab.

But some in the opposition asserted that Shara had fled to Jordan while others said he had attempted to flee but was now under house arrest.

The Eid holiday came as Syria marked a bloody month of clashes with rebels.

The Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition groups, has documented more than 4,600 deaths during the month, including 445 children and 342 women. The largest number of those killed were in Damascus and Aleppo, the sites of rebel offensives around the beginning of Ramadan that led to a strong response by government forces. Those forces have increasingly taken to the skies, firing artillery from attack helicopters and fighter jets.

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