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DAMASCUS: Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday pressed in Damascus for a truce to break the cycle of bloodshed in Syria, while the regime said a national dialogue free of foreign interference held the key.
Brahimi met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition leaders tolerated by President Bashar Al Assad’s regime in a bid to win support for his plan to secure a truce for Eid Al Adha holiday next week.
The foreign ministry said Muallem discussed with Brahimi “a halt to the violence ... in order to prepare for a global Syrian dialogue, free of any foreign intervention”. “Such a dialogue is the only way to emerge from the crisis.” Muallem also complained to Brahimi about regional countries who host, arm and train rebels, saying their action was undermining the UN-Arab League envoy’s mission. Brahimi is hoping to secure a ceasefire during the four-day Eid holiday starting October 26 that he believes could pave the way for more permanent peace initiatives.
Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, an opposition group tolerated by the regime, voiced support for the proposed truce. The ceasefire could pave the way for a political process if it was broadened to include the release of prisoners held by the regime and the supply of medical aid to beleaguered citizens, he said.
Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces and rebels clashed around a besieged army base near the strategic northern town of Maaret Al Numan. Machine gun fire and explosions rang out from Wadi Deif base on the eastern outskirts of Maaret Al Numan, which has since come under heavy army bombardment and air strikes since rebels seized it on October 9. Witnesses saw 15 tanks deployed around the base to defend it, some camouflaged among olive trees. The sprawling Wadi Deif base, about 2km outside Maaret Al Numan, is surrounded by watchtowers and mounds of earth.
Rebels said up to 500 soldiers are holed up inside the base. Military helicopters have been seen dropping supplies that often miss their target and instead land behind rebel lines or in no-man’s land. The rebels have besieged Wadi Deif from three sides, including from positions along the highway that runs from Damascus to the key northern city of Aleppo, a stretch of several kilometres which they hold.
Regime air strikes have targeted the rebel-controlled areas along the key highway with 500kg bombs. Maaret Al Numan’s streets were largely deserted. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave an initial toll of 65 people killed yesterday: 18 civilians, 22 soldiers and 22 rebels. Agencies