Syrian regime bombs on Muslim holiday
Oct 15, 2013 / 7:44 am
Syrian warplanes bombed several rebel-held areas Tuesday and opposition fighters fired mortar rounds and homemade rockets at Damascus on the first day of a major Muslim holiday, activists said.
The fighting during Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, showed how entrenched both sides have become in Syria's civil war, now in its third year. Previously, combatants occasionally attempted to observe holiday cease-fires.
The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of Syrians. The land is now a patchwork of rebel- and regime-controlled areas, with front-lines crisscrossing the country.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian regime and the exile-based political opposition must try to meet a mid-November target date for launching talks on a political transition.
However, there is no clear path toward such negotiations, and the main Western-backed opposition group hasn't decided whether to attend.
In Tuesday's fighting, rebels fired mortar rounds and homemade rockets at three Damascus neighbourhoods, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from activists.
An amateur video distributed by the group shows three rockets being fired, trailed by smoke.
Syria's state news agency SANA said a mortar shell smashed into a house in the city's al-Qanawat neighbourhood, igniting a fire and wounding four people.
Rebels routinely fire mortar shells at government-held areas of the Syrian capital.
In the village of Yabroud, several dozen miles north of the capital, assailants detonated explosives on the roofs of Our Lady's Church and the Church of Helena and Constantine, SANA reported.
The explosions damaged the crosses, SANA said. It said attempts to detonate more bombs outside the two churches were foiled.
The Observatory confirmed that several explosions went off, damaging the churches.
There was no claim of responsibility, though SANA blamed "terrorists," the regime's term for rebels. Assad has drawn support from Syria's ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians. Many rebels are Sunni Muslims, a majority in Syria.
In regime attacks, warplanes bombed targets in the village of Latamneh in the northern Hama province, the Observatory said. Three children were killed and several people were wounded, the group said.
The regime also bombed areas of the Eastern Ghouta district, near Damascus, and the southern city of Daraa, the Observatory said.
As the fighting continued, Assad attended holiday prayers in a Damascus mosque. Syrian state TV showed him sitting cross-legged on the floor, in the front row of worshippers.
Assad continues to appear in public, apparently to send a message of "business as usual" even as large parts of Syria lie in ruins.
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