Brahimi meets al-Assad as blast rocks Damascus
A view shows the wreckage after a car bomb exploded in the central Bab Touma district of Damascus. REUTERS/ SANAU.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has appealed to both sides in Syria’s conflict to cease fire for the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, this week after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as a deadly blast rocked Damascus.
At least 13 people were killed and 29 were wounded in the blast in the Bab Touma neighborhood, a popular shopping district largely inhabited by Syria’s Christian minority, SANA state news agency said.
Once largely immune to the violence that has swept over Syria since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011, Damascus has become a frequent target of bombings in recent months. Two officials speaking from the scene said the taxi blew up 50 meters from Bab Touma’s main police station. The bombing came as U.N.-Arab League envoy Brahimi had finished holding talks with al-Assad and called for “unilateral” cease-fires by the regime and the rebels for the Eid al-Adha holidays that start Oct. 26. “I appeal to everyone to take a unilateral decision to cease hostilities on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and that this truce be respected from today or tomorrow,” he said.
The U.N.-Arab League envoy told reporters that the cease-fire call was his, “personal initiative, not a blueprint for peace.”
“This is a call to every Syrian on the street, in the village, fighting in the regular army and its opponents, for them to take a unilateral decision to stop hostilities,” he said, adding that he had contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria and armed groups in the country. “We found them to be very favorable” to the idea of a truce, he said with a cautious note of optimism.
No foreign interference, al-Assad reiterates
“We will return to Syria after the Eid and if calm really takes hold during the feast, we will continue to work [on ending the 19-month conflict],” said Brahimi on his second mission to Damascus since taking up the post in September. The state news agency said al-Assad assured Brahimi that he supported his effort, but did not say whether he committed to a truce.
Al-Assad reportedly told Brahimi he was “open to all sincere efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis on the basis of a rejection of any foreign interference,” according to SANA. The president stressed calls for “a halt to terrorism” and “commitment on the part of certain implicated countries to stop harboring, supporting and arming terrorists” in Syria.
Syrian government forces and rebels have both agreed in the past to internationally brokered cease-fires only to then promptly violate them and there is little indication that either is willing to stop fighting now.
On the ground, clashes were reported Oct. 22 in several parts of Syria, including Damascus province and the northern city of Aleppo, a key battleground for the past three months. Clashes and shelling were also reported in the town of Harasta, north of the capital, activists said, adding that regime forces bombed orchards in the nearby towns of Douma and Zamalka.