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Syrian refugees carry aid and rations at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, yesterday.
DAMASCUS: Syrians woke up to air strikes near Damascus on New Year’s Day and the closure of Aleppo airport due to rebel attacks, hours after dozens of people took to the streets of the capital calling for the regime’s ouster.
The violence came a day after activists reported finding dozens of mutilated bodies, another sign of the gruesome nature of the 21-month conflict.
Warplanes bombed the Damascus suburbs in a fresh bid to push rebels further out, and troops attacked insurgent strongholds on the Damascus airport road.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids came amid fierce clashes along the airport road, giving a toll of 13 people killed in the Damascus region, among 43 nationwide.
Battles have raged for weeks outside Damascus, where insurgents have rear bases.
Analysts say the army is seeking to take total control of Damascus and environs to create conditions necessary for future dialogue, which Prime Minister Wael Al Halaqi said the government is open to.
In northern Syria, where insurgents hold huge swathes of territory, authorities announced the closure of Aleppo airport after rebel attacks.
“There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster,” an airport official said.
He said the airport would be closed for a “very short period of time” while the army tries to regain control of rebel-held areas around it.
The Observatory reported that the closure came after a blast, likely due to rebel shelling, hit a civil airplane as it took off on Saturday.
Violence ravaged Syria into 2013, with the gruesome discovery on Monday of what activists said were dozens of corpses in Damascus.
The Observatory said 30 bodies were found in Barzeh district, while the Syrian Revolution General Commission said 50 bodies were found with their heads “cut and disfigured to the point that it was no longer possible to identify” them.
And a video posted by activists showed a separate discovery of three young boys found Monday in Jubar with their throats slit.
The authenticity of the footage could not be verified.
On New Year’s Eve, dozens of women and men dressed in red Santa hats and holding sparklers took to the streets of the middle class district of Salhiyeh to call for the fall of the regime.
“A black year to you Bashar (Al Assad), and a happy New Year to Syria,” the crowd sang out in a taunt at the Syrian president.
“God, Syria, freedom, that’s all!” they shouted, mocking regime supporters whose slogan says “Bashar” instead of “freedom.”
“Curse your soul, O Hafez!” they shouted, in reference to the father and predecessor of the president, whose family has ruled for more than four decades.
“May God protect the (rebel) Free Syrian Army” and “Victory to the revolutionaries!” they chanted, holding signs demanding freedom for prisoners of conscience.
Although the conflict is often seen as one between an opposition led by the country’s Sunni majority and the minority Alawite-dominated regime, the fault lines in the capital are as a much a matter of social class as of confession.
The higher-income districts that cross Damascus from northwest to southeast have largely eschewed the rebels or kept pro-opposition sentiments concealed, largely sparing them the violence that has ravaged other areas.
The uprising began with peaceful protests in March 2011. Despite the sharp rise in air strikes and shelling over the past year that has laid waste to neighbourhoods across the country, demonstrators continue to take to the streets.
On the diplomatic front, Prime Minister Wael Al Halaqi said Monday the government was open to talks aimed at solving the conflict that monitors say has now killed more then 46,000 people.
“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.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Sunday he had crafted a ceasefire plan based on an agreement world powers reached in Geneva in June.
The premier said the revolt must be resolved only by Syrians, adding that the country was on track to “declare victory over its enemies”.
The opposition has already rejected the Geneva accord, insisting that Assad must go before any dialogue can take place.