Syria fighting rages despite major Muslim holiday

By Karin Laub

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, fifth from right, prays during the Eid al-Adha prayer at the Sayeda Hassiba mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

Uncredited, Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syrian warplanes bombed several rebel-held areas Tuesday and opposition fighters fired mortar rounds and homemade rockets at Damascus at the start 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 neighborhoods, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from activists on the ground.

An amateur video distributed by the group shows three rockets being fired, trailed by smoke, and the narrator saying the target is Damascus.

Rebels routinely fire mortar shells at government-held areas of the Syrian capital.

On Monday evening, a motorcycle packed with explosives blew up in the government-controlled Damascus area of al-Mazzeh, wounding 10 people, Syria's state news agency SANA reported. It said the blast damaged several cars.

Also Tuesday, regime 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, but there were no immediate reports of casualties there.

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.

Kerry reiterated Monday that Assad "has lost the legitimacy to be able to be a cohesive force that could bring people together." However, the Syrian leader, with strong backing from Russia, has rejected repeated calls to step aside.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees marked a subdued holiday in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan. The camp is home to more than 120,000 refugees and has turned into Jordan's fourth-largest city.

A few children bought toys from shops in the camp, as is customary during the holiday, and men attended special Eid prayers, though the refugees said there's no joy in the holiday.

"We feel bad, we feel bad because everyone here has lost his home and family members and his money," said Ibrahim Oweis, a refugee from Damascus.

Osama al-Madi, a refugee from the southern city of Daraa, said he opposes transition talks with the regime, as proposed by the U.S.

"In each tent here, you will find people who have lost a martyr or have people in prisons, we have missing people in Assad's prisons," he said. "How can we negotiate with a killer regime?"

Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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