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Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad take their positions at the Air Defence Base in Tal Hassil, in Aleppo, yesterday.
DAMASCUS: Syria’s government yesterday welcomed any initiative for talks to end bloodshed in the country, after UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said he had a peace plan acceptable to world powers.
The regime’s stand, expressed by Prime Minister Wael Al Halaqi, came amid a flurry of diplomacy led by Brahimi to find ways to end the 21-month conflict.
But the violence still raged, with activists reporting the gruesome discovery of dozens of tortured, headless corpses in a Damascus district, adding that nearly 90 percent of the 45,000 people killed so far died in 2012.
“The government is working to support the national reconciliation project and will respond to any regional or international initiative that would solve the current crisis through dialogue and peaceful means and prevent foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs,” Halaqi told parliament.
He said the revolt against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime must be resolved only by the Syrian people, “without external pressures or decrees”.
Halaqi said the country was “moving towards a historic moment when it will declare victory over its enemies, with the goal of positioning Syria to build a new world order that promotes national sovereignty and the concept of international law”.
Brahimi said Sunday he had crafted a ceasefire plan “that could be adopted by the international community”.
The proposal involved a ceasefire, the formation of a government, an election plan, and was based on an agreement world powers reached in Geneva in June. The opposition has already rejected that accord, and insists Assad must go before any dialogue can take place.
Russia and China have so far vetoed three UN Security Council draft resolutions seeking to force Assad’s hand with the threat of sanctions.
The violence has escalated, with activists reporting the discovery of 30 tortured bodies in a flashpoint district of Damascus, while a gruesome video emerged of a separate slaying of three children in the capital.
Fighting erupted in Daraya as army reinforcements massed in the contested town where more than 500 people were reportedly killed in the conflict’s bloodiest massacre in August.
In central Syria, the army shelled the town of Halfaya in Hama province, where an air strike on a bakery last week killed 60 people, and Houla in Homs province, where pro-regime militiamen are suspected of killing more than 100 people in May in another major massacre.
The Observatory said nearly 90 percent of the 45,000 people killed in the conflict died in 2012, putting this year’s toll at 39,362 people, mostly civilians.
The uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring, but morphed into an armed rebellion following a brutal government crackdown.
The sharp increase in fatalities was due to a fierce escalation in the methods of crackdown by the regime, which included air raids on densely populated areas, said the Observatory.
Though rebels now hold vast swathes of territory and have struck the heart of Damascus, the regime has so far stood firm despite Western predictions of its imminent fall.
At a converted warehouse in the midst of a block of residential homes in a northern Syrian town, men are hard at work at giant lathes, shavings of metal gathering around them.
Sacks of potassium nitrate and sugar lie nearby.
In a neat row against the wall is the finished product, homemade mortars. Syrian rebels say they have been forced to make them because their calls for heavy weapons and ammunition to fight President Bashar Al Assad have gone unanswered.
“No one’s giving us any support. So we’re working on our own to strike Bashar,” said a bearded man spinning the metal to create the warhead.
Using the Internet, the workshop of about seven men work together to try and perfect the crude weapons. For explosives, they pick out TNT from unexploded rockets that Assad’s forces have fired towards them and repackage them into their own weapons. Each gave different estimates of the mortars’ range.
“We’re volunteers, we were workers, we were never soldiers. They’re locally made. They don’t have the strength of the regime’s rockets, but they are having good effects,” said Abu Mohammed, who said the mortars created a 3-1/2 metre crater. Another worker said the mortars, which take about a day to make, could reach a distance of 6km.
Although the rebels, who are mostly Sunni Muslim fighters, have made big gains in the northern and eastern parts of Syria in the 21-month conflict, they are outgunned by Assad’s forces.
Some rebel groups are receiving supplies from Gulf states, and Western countries say they are giving non-lethal aid. But many rebels say they have not received anything. Colonel Abdel-Jabbar Oqaidi, who heads the rebels’ military council in Aleppo province, told Reuters last week that his forces are fighting without any help from the Western and Arab governments which want Assad removed from power.
“We aren’t able to get any weapons from abroad. We have nothing except for the rifle to fight with,” said another man at the workshop.