Battle mars Syria holiday truce; lull elsewhere

By Barbara Surk

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Saeed said the city was "relatively calm," despite shelling in several areas and clashes near the city's military airport that killed at least four people. The lull in fighting prompted hundreds to protest against the regime, he said, adding that there are marches in several neighborhoods, including in al-Shaar, Hanano and Bustan al-Qasr as well as in several suburbs of Aleppo.

Activists' videos that were posted online Friday showed, large groups of protesters waving rebel flags cheering, clapping and in some cases, dancing to revolutionary songs.

"May God curse your soul Hafez," they shouted in the Damascus suburb of Kfar Batna, in reference to Assad's father, the late Syrian president, Hafez Assad. They were also seen chanting, "Syria wants freedom" and "You will fall, Bashar."

Syria's state news agency said Assad attended holiday prayers in Al-Afram Mosque in Al-Muhajireen district of Damascus. The embattled president was shown briefly on TV, sitting on the mosque floor and praying. He was later seen smiling and shaking hands with worshippers.

Assad has rarely appeared in public during the uprising. He was last shown on state TV Oct. 6, when he laid a wreath to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israel war.

More than 35,000 people have been killed, including more than 8,000 government troops, since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to activists.

The Observatory said overnight clashes between troops and rebels took place in Homs, in Deir el-Zour in the country's east and in the city of Aleppo, the country's largest. At least seven people were killed in the fighting, including three rebels, the group said. Six soldiers were wounded.

On Thursday, rebels claimed major gains in the key battleground of Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, pushing into predominantly Christian and Kurdish neighborhoods that had previously been held by pro-Assad forces in northern part of the city.

The short holiday cease-fire was all a divided international community could agree on after the failure of a more ambitious plan for an open-ended truce and political transition talks by Brahimi's predecessor, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, in April.

Brahimi has not said what was supposed to happen after four days, an ominous sign, since Assad and opposition leaders disagree sharply on how to proceed. Assad refuses to resign, while some opposition leaders say his departure is a prerequisite for any political talks. The fragmented opposition factions disagree over whether to negotiate with Assad at all.


Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report

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