Brahimi: Syria government agrees to Eid truce

The UN envoy says Damascus agrees to truce, while government says a final decision on the issue to be taken on Thursday.

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has said the Syrian government had agreed to a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“After the visit I made to Damascus, there is an agreement from the Syrian government for a ceasefire during the Eid,” Brahimi told a news conference at the Cairo-based Arab League on Wednesday.

He added that “most” rebel leaders contacted said they would observe a truce, but did not specify if this included commanders of the main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army.

“If we succeed with this modest initiative, a longer ceasefire can be built on it, and the launch of a political process,” Brahimi said.

Shortly after the announcement, the Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the government would take a final decision about the ceasefire on Thursday.

“The army command is studying the cessation of military operations during the Eid holiday, and the final decision will be taken tomorrow,” the statement said.

Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy, met with Faisal Mekdad, Syrian deputy foreign minister, in Damascus on Tuesday [EPA]

The holiday starts on Thursday and lasts three or four days.

Brahimi, a mediator appointed by the United Nations and League, did not specify the precise time period.

He met with the head of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi for talks on the 20-month conflict.

Brahimi will also brief the United Nations Security Council on his efforts to secure the temporary ceasefire.

He will address the 15-member Security Council by a video link from Cairo on Wednesday, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“Mr Brahimi is pushing extremely hard, as is the Secretary-General, because this is an extremely important moment,” Nesirky told reporters in New York.

The 15-member Security Council is bitterly divided over the conflict with Western nations pressing for international actions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Russia and China blocking these moves.

Ongoing violence

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the unrelenting violence is dimming hopes for Eid ceasefire.

“Neither the rebels nor the regime appear to want a ceasefire, and the daily death toll continues to exceed 100,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the Observatory director, told the AFP news agency.

The Observatory said 112 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday, including ten people who died when a warplane bombed a bread queue in the northern city of Aleppo.

On the battlefront, warplanes raided an eastern district of Aleppo city, the conflict’s focal point since mid-July, killing a child and nine other people, said the Observatory.

“Ten people, including a child, were killed by a military air strike near a bakery in the Masaken Hanano neighbourhood of Aleppo,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“It is always at the bread lines” where people get killed, he added.

A resident confirmed the aerial attack, saying civilians were killed “as they were standing in line to get bread from the Zahra bakery”.

The Observatory also reported fighting in Damascus province, and said five children and three women were among 12 people killed in the district of Moadamiya by shelling that targeted a residential area.

Violence also gripped the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and Deraa in the south and warplanes pounded the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan, which rebels seized on October 9.

Weapons controversy

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have acquired portable surface-to-air missiles, including US-made Stingers, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s senior general as saying on Wednesday.

Russia has laid most of the blame for continuing violence on armed government foes it says are aided by encouragement and arms from abroad.

Russia’s military has learned “that militants fighting Syrian government forces have portable missile launchers of
various states, including American-made Stingers,” Interfax quoted general staff chief Nikolai Makarov as saying.

“Who supplied them must still be determined,” he said.

NBC News reported in late July that the rebel Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as MANPADs. A political adviser to the Free Syrian Army denied it.

In contrast to the Libya crisis, the West has shown little appetite to arm the Syrian rebels, worried that weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Russia sold the government in Syria $1 bn worth of weapons last year and has made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the UN Security Council because of what it says are concerns rebels fighting Assad’s government would get weapons illegally anyway.