Violence rages as Ramadan ceasefire plan falls on deaf ears in Syria

Published July 10th, 2013 - 08:52 GMT
 rebel fighter points his gun towards pro-government forces' positions during clashes in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (JM Lopez / AFP)
rebel fighter points his gun towards pro-government forces' positions during clashes in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (JM Lopez / AFP)

U.N. calls for cease-fire on the eve of Ramadan fell on deaf ears Tuesday as violence raged in flashpoint areas across Syria.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that: “I am calling for ... every person holding a gun, to stop fighting and offer this month of peace as a collective present to their people.”

His statement followed a proposed truce by the Syrian National Coalition chief, Ahmad Jarba, in the embattled city of Homs for the holy month.

The central city was pounded by government warplanes and artillery fire Tuesday for the 11th-consecutive day. Homs is seen as crucial to the government’s attempts to link the capital to President Bashar Assad’s coastal strongholds and divide rebel units in the north and south.

Khaldieh, a northern district that links the outskirts of the city with the center, was the focus of the violence and the 13th-century Khalid bin Walid Mosque, a prominent central landmark, had been hit, the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It added that the Krak de Chevaliers crusader castle, once a popular tourist site in Homs province, was the scene of clashes Tuesday.

Battles also raged in Aleppo, where many government-held areas are deprived of food supplies.

Moscow’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Tuesday that Russian experts believed sarin gas was used in a suburb of the city on March 19 and was most likely fired by rebels.

The incident at Khan al-Assal killed more than two dozen people. Both the regime and rebels have blamed each other for what they say was an attack involving chemical weapons. Both also deny using chemical weapons.

Russian officials visited the location where the projectile struck and took their own samples of material from the site. Those samples, Churkin said, were then analyzed at a Russian laboratory certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“The projectile involved is not a standard one for chemical use,” he said. “Hexogen, utilized as an opening charge, is not utilized in standard ammunitions. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that it was armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal.”Syrian rebels have intensified their blockade of government-held areas, opposition activists said Tuesday. Many activists condemn the tactic, aimed at weakening the supply routes Assad’s forces, arguing that it indiscriminately punishes more than 2 million people living in the western part of the city still held by the army.

“This is a crime ... Some of our rebel forces, God reform them, are participating in this blockade. Prices are soaring at an unimaginable rate. There is now horrible scarcity,” said an activist speaking by Skype.

Rebels have been working for months to block roads leading into western Aleppo, but food scarcity only became a serious problem this week. The fighters decided for the first time to block a highway once left open to civilians, according to an Aleppo-based activist who asked not to be named. Previously, they had only attacked Assad’s forces there.

A rebel fighter in Aleppo said the blockade on residents was not intentional, but rather an unfortunate side effect of rebel clashes with the army.

“This is really because of the battles. It’s not just the rebels’ fault, the army is also firing on any car that goes toward the west,” said the fighter, who calls himself Ahmad.

Residents in government-held western Aleppo say food prices have jumped to more than ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find.

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