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Syria cease-fire in doubt within hours

Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announces a cease-fire for the Eid al-Adha holiday, but Syria's government says it is studying the plan, and many rebels just scoff.

October 25, 2012|By Los Angeles Times staff
  • A wounded Syrian youth sits in the back of a truck carrying victims after an attack by government forces in Aleppo on Sunday.
A wounded Syrian youth sits in the back of a truck carrying victims after… (Fabio Bucciarelli, AFP/Getty…)

BEIRUT — Only hours after the international envoy to Syria announced a cease-fire for the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday, it was already thrown into doubt.

The envoy for the U.N. and Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Wednesday that the government of President Bashar Assad had agreed to a four-day cease-fire for the upcoming Muslim holiday. Brahimi has been working to broker a cease-fire as he meets with other regional leaders.

"We hope to build on it and aim for a lasting and solid cease-fire," he said of the truce, which was backed by the United Nations Security Council.

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But within an hour, Syria's Foreign Ministry said military commanders were still studying the proposal.

And despite Brahimi's contention that most rebel groups he spoke to had agreed, there is little consensus within the opposition, with commanders in various parts of Syria saying different things.

"We will observe it as long as the regime does," said Col. Qassim Saad Eddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, who added that "we don't expect them to observe it for even one minute."

Abu Firas, a spokesman for the opposition Revolutionary Council for Aleppo and Its Suburbs, said the Free Syrian Army had agreed to a cease-fire only on the conditions that the government release all detainees, withdraw its army from the city and end its siege of Homs — conditions that are highly unlikely to be met.

But what seemed to undermine the proposal the most Wednesday was the continuing violence across the country, which activists said claimed more than 100 lives. Even a brief lull in violence at this point seems improbable.

In the Damascus suburb of Duma, activists said government forces and loyalist militia fighters stormed a building and massacred 22 civilians. Among them were eight women and four children, activists said.

State news media blamed the killings on opposition fighters.

In the northern city of Maarat Numan, site of fierce clashes and shelling for two weeks, a mosque was bombed and four sheiks were killed, said Ahmad Halabi, an activist in the city.

And in the south Damascus neighborhood of Tadamon, rebels detonated a bomb at a government checkpoint, killing at least six, according to state media.

Even if both sides agree to the cease-fire, its implementation remains in doubt. A previous truce brokered by Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, fell apart within days when government forces didn't withdraw from cities as promised and the regime accused rebels of continuing attacks.

Since then the conflict has grown more violent, with mounting daily death tolls.

Abu Muaath, a commander with the Ansar al Islam brigade in Damascus, one of the largest rebel groups in the capital, said his group would not agree to the cease-fire because the government was already undermining it.

In the last two days, he said, the government has doubled the number of checkpoints in and around Damascus and beefed up its security forces.

At least half the rebel commanders have not agreed to the truce, he said.

"For a cease-fire, he needs to remove the checkpoints and stop the detentions and killing. Is this just to laugh at the people in saying publicly that there is a cease-fire?" he said. "The people of Syria will have their Eid when the regime falls."

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