(MENAFN - Arab News) Syrian jets bombarded Sunni regions in Damascus and across the country yesterday, activists said, as President Bashar Assad kept up airstrikes against rebels despite a UN-brokered truce that now appears to be in tatters.
"The cease-fire is practically over. Damascus has been under brutal air raids since day one and hundreds of people have been arrested," said veteran opposition campaigner Fawaz Tello.
"Assad has been trying to use the truce to seize back control of areas of Damascus," said Tello, who is well connected with rebels.
Speaking from Berlin, Tello said Sunni districts in the city of Homs, 140 km north of Damascus, and surrounding countryside came under Syrian army shelling yesterday.
Both sides in the 19-month-old conflict have violated the cease-fire intended to mark the holiday of Eid Al-Adha. The truce, brokered by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, was supposed to come into effect on Friday, the first day of the four-day holiday.
In the capital Damascus, activists and residents reported large explosions and plumes of smoke rising over the city as Syrian airforce jets bombed the suburbs of Zamalka, Irbin, Harasta and Zamalka.
A statement by the Harasta Media Office , an opposition activists' group, said aerial and ground bombardments had killed at least 45 people in the district since Friday.
Electricity, water and communications had been cut and dozens of wounded at the Harasta National Hospital had been moved as the bombardment closed in, the statement said.
Activists also reported fighting in the suburb of Douma to the northeast, where Free Syrian Army fighters have been attacking roadblocks manned by forces loyal to the government.
Warplanes also hit towns and villages in the eastern province of Deir Al-Zor, the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, where rebels have been trying to push their advantage in rural areas by cutting off supply lines to the major cities, none of which has fallen completely under opposition control.
Fighting was reported in the city of Aleppo, Syria's industrial and commercial hub. Rebels attacked several road blocks manned by Assad's loyalists and a 20-year-old girl was killed in army bombardment on Suleiman Al-Halabi neighborhood, opposition activists said.
Rebel attempts to portray themselves as a united alternative to Assad suffered a setback when clashes broke out on Saturday in Ashrafieh, a Kurdish district of Aleppo that had up to now stayed out of the fighting. Armed clashes broke out between opposition fighters and members of the Syrian branch of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
Mouhaimen Al-Rumaid, coordinator for the opposition Syrian Rebel Front, said the fighting erupted when PKK fighters helped Assad's forces defend a security compound in Ashrafieh that came under rebel attack. Rumaid said scores of people were killed and rebels seized dozens of PKK members.
"The Ashrafieh incident has to be contained because it could extend to other areas in the northeast where the PKK is well organized," he said.
Meanwhile, Iraq stopped and searched a Syria-bound cargo plane from Iran for weapons for the second time in a month yesterday, but allowed it to continue as no banned items were found, an official said.
The United States has been pressuring Baghdad to ensure all Iranian aircraft flying through its airspace are ordered to land and checked for weapons, but Iraq has said it will only stop planes when it has doubts about the cargo being transported.
"We ordered an Iranian cargo plane traveling to Syria to land at Baghdad International Airport for inspection," Nasser Bandar, the head of Iraq's civil aviation authority, said.
"It was inspected by security forces, but we did not find any banned items, and we allowed it to continue its trip," Bandar said. Inspectors did not find any weapons, and instead found medical supplies and humanitarian goods. "We have orders that any cargo plane we have doubts about, we must stop it and inspect it," Bandar said.
In a separate development, a Turkish relief agency trying to secure the release of a Turkish journalist captured by government troops in Syria has obtained a photograph showing him in apparent good health.
Cuneyt Unal, who works for the US-funded Al-Hurra television channel, went missing with Jordanian colleague Bashar Fahmi shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey on Aug. 20. Unal appeared in an interview with a Syrian pro-government television channel several days later, in which he described his capture by Syrian soldiers in the city of Aleppo, but there has been no news of him since.
IHH, a Turkish Islamic humanitarian agency, posted a picture of Unal on its website late on Saturday. It said the photograph was obtained by one of its delegations currently in Damascus trying to secure the release of detained civilians.
The picture, which has a date stamp of Oct. 24, shows Unal unshaven and thinner Unal but in apparent good health, and bruising under his eyes seen in the August video has now gone.
BY TIM WITCHER