Damascus // A UN brokered ceasefire failed to stop violence in Syria yesterday, with fighting in the capital Damascus and more than 60 people killed nationwide, despite promises by the the regime and rebels to pause the conflict for Eid.
The truce, orchestrated by UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, was supposed to last for the four days of Eid Al Adha, beginning yesterday.
But a bomb exploded in a Damascus suburb and explosions could be heard in the south of the capital.
At nightfall four loud blasts – apparently shells – and heavy gunfire sounded in southern Damascus, drowning out the calls to prayer from local mosques.
There was intermittent shooting throughout the afternoon.
Despite the bloodshed, some Damascus residents said the situation seemed a quieter that has been the case, with between 100 and 200 killed per day on a routine basis recently.
“It is not perfect but it is quieter than normal. I’m not sure if it’s because of the ceasefire or because of the rain,” said Abu Ahmad, a resident of Qadam near Damascus.
“It is better than most days, so we can say the ceasefire is a kind of relief. We hope it holds. Everyone would like at least four days of peace to rest.”
Thousands of Syrians across the country took advantage of the promised calm yesterday and, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the uprising, engaged in peaceful protests calling for an end to Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
It is a measure of just how bad the situation has become in Syria that 60-plus people being killed, and light street fighting, can be taken as a sign of some respite.
The government had earlier announced a suspension of military operations, except in cases where rebel forces fired first, or where they sought to exploit the pause to bolster their positions. Most rebel factions indicated they would honour a ceasefire.
But a plume of black smoke rose from Qadam, on the southern edge of Damascus, in the morning.
Activists said it was hit by shellfire in the evening.
Qadam has been the scene of heavy fighting since July and, yesterday, rifle fire continued there. Activist networks reported clashes in the area between the rebel Free Syria Army and government troops.
Abu Ahmad, meanwhile, brushed aside any suggestion that a reduction in violence might become an opening for a real political process to end the crisis, now in its 19th month.
“This war won’t be finished until one side or the other has won, we know that,” he said.
Mr Brahimi, the architect of the Eid ceasefire, had said there are thin hopes that a temporary pause in fighting could be extended.
Public support for the ceasefire has come from Syria’s critics, including the United States, Turkey and Europe, as well as from Russia, Iran and China, the key supporters of Al Assad’s regime.
Both pro and anti-Assad factions, domestically and internationally, accuse the other of ratcheting up the war and suffocating chances of stopping the violence. Mr Al Assad visited a mosque in the Muhajareen neighbourhood of Damascus – near his residence and offices, now a highly defended area – for prayers to mark Eid.
Roads into and out of the city were closed by checkpoints yesterday morning as he did so. By 10am many streets were reopened, although traffic was light, with few Syrians apparently prepared to risk travelling to visit relatives as they typically would at Eid.
The holiday mood was distinctly sombre, with typically busy amusement parks all but deserted
Soldiers, huddling for warmth next to fires burning in tin cans – many had no coats to keep off the rain – searched the cars of those making journeys into and out of the city.
Few details have emerged about the bombing, which hit Def Al Shouk, a densely populated and relatively poor neighbourhood of eastern Damascus, where opposition fighters have battled regime forces during repeated military operations.
Sana, the state run news agency, said it was a “terrorist” car bomb attack, which had killed five people and wounded 32, according to “preliminary figures”. The same neighbourhood was hit in a suicide car bombing on Wednesday, which state media reported at the time as having killed six people and wounded 20. That earlier attacked was claimed by Islamist militants – who have said they will not observe a ceasefire.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 61 people had been killed by yesterday evening.
The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots activists network, said 80 people had been killed, with shelling in Homs and the Damascus suburb of Douma.
It also reported demonstrations in Def Al Shouk, with protesters accusing the regime of planting the bomb there.
firstname.lastname@example.org with additional reporting by Agence France-Pesse, Associated Press and Reuters