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BOMB NEAR PLAYGROUND

Damascus car bomb shatters Syria truce

Beirut, October 27, 2012

A powerful car bomb exploded in Damascus on Friday and forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad clashed with rebels across Syria as a truce intended to mark a Muslim religious holiday unravelled and activists reported at least 70 deaths.

State television said the "terrorist car bomb" had killed five people and wounded 32, according to "preliminary figures".

Opposition activists said the bomb had gone off near a makeshift children's playground built for the Eid al-Adha holiday in the southern Daf al-Shok district of the capital.

Fighting erupted around Syria earlier as both sides violated the Eid al-Adha ceasefire arranged by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Violence was less intense than usual and activists reported no air strikes, but dozens of people were killed including 26 troops, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the bloodshed in the country.

The Syrian military said it had responded to attacks by insurgents on army positions, in line with its announcement on Thursday that it would cease military activity during the four-day holiday but reserved the right to react to rebel actions.

Brahimi's ceasefire appeal had won widespread international support, including from Russia, China and Iran, President Assad's main foreign allies.

The U.N.-Arab League envoy had hoped to build on the truce to calm a 19-month-old conflict that has killed an estimated 32,000 people and worsened instability in the Middle East.

Violence appeared to wane in some areas, but truce breaches by both sides swiftly marred Syrians' hopes of celebrating Eid al-Adha, the climax of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, in peace.

"We are not celebrating Eid here," said a woman in a besieged Syrian town near the Turkish border, speaking above the noise of incessant gunfire and shelling. "No one is in the mood to celebrate. Everyone is just glad they are alive."

Her husband, a portly, bearded man in his 50s, said they and their five children had just returned to the town after nine days camped out on a farm with other families to escape clashes.

"We have no gifts for our children. We can't even make phone calls to our families," he said, a young daughter on his lap.

The imam of Makkah's Grand Mosque called on Arabs and Muslims to take "practical and urgent" steps to stop bloodshed in Syria.

Heavy machinegun fire and mortar explosions were audible along the Turkey-Syria border near the Syrian town of Haram, a Reuters witness in the Turkish border village of Besaslan said.

Rebels in the northern town near the Turkish border said a sniper had killed one of their fighters early on Friday.

"We don't believe the ceasefire will work," rebel commander Basel Eissa told Reuters. "There's no Eid for us rebels on the front line. The only Eid we can celebrate will be liberation."

Assad himself, who has vowed to defeat what he says are Islamist fighters backed by Syria's enemies abroad, was shown on state television attending Eid prayers at a Damascus mosque.

Military stalemate

The prime minister, information minister and foreign minister, as well as the mufti, Syria's top Muslim official, were filmed praying alongside the 47-year-old president.

Assad, smiling and apparently relaxed, shook hands and exchanging Eid greetings with other worshippers afterwards.

Protests against him burst out in March last year, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere, but repression by security forces led to an armed insurgency, plunging Syria into a civil war which neither side has proved able to win or willing to end.

A commander from the rebel Free Syrian Army had said his fighters would honour the ceasefire but demanded Assad meet opposition demands for the release of thousands of detainees. – Reuters




Tags: Syria | assad | Ceasefire | Damascus | car bomb |

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