Government warplanes bombed a town in northern Syria today, killing at least 18 people, activists said, while the new UN envoy to the country acknowledged that brokering an end to the nation’s civil war will be a “very, very difficult” task.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the airstrikes targeted a residential area in the northern town of al-Bab, about 20 miles from the Turkish border. The Observatory said 18 people were killed in the town; the LCC put the death toll at 25.
An amateur video showed men frantically searching for bodies in the rubble of a white building turned into a pile of debris. The video could not be independently verified.
Syrian’s uprising began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime, but has since morphed into a civil war in the face of a brutal government crackdown. Activists say at least 23,000 people have been killed so far.
The violence has escalated in recent months, and activist groups said Sunday that some 5,000 people were killed in August alone – the highest ever reported in more than 17 months of bloodshed.
Today, activists reported violence across the country, including the suburbs of the capital Damascus, the eastern region of Deir el-Zour, as well as in Daraa to the south and in Idlib and Aleppo to the north.
Activists and state media also said a roadside bomb in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana wounded several people.
Diplomatic efforts, including a six-point peace plan by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to solve the conflict have failed so far.
In Damascus, Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi vowed that Syria “will give Brahimi every possible assistance. We will give him maximum assistance the way we did with Kofi Annan.”
The Assad regime made similar public statements when it signed on to Annan’s peace plan, only to frequently ignore or outright violate its commitments, by failing to pull its troops out of cities or stop shelling opposition areas.
Al-Zoebi also sought to deflect some of the responsibility for the success or failure of Brahimi’s mission onto the shoulders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying they must “stop sending weapons (to rebels) and close training bases,” they are hosting.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the harshest critics of President Bashar Assad’s regime and strongly support the rebels who are trying to overthrow him.
France’s foreign minister has said western powers are preparing a tough response in case Syrian president Bashar Assad’s regime deploys chemical or biological weapons in its civil war.
Laurent Fabius said “our response ... would be massive and blistering”.
Mr Fabius, speaking on RMC radio, said: “We are discussing this notably with our American and English partners.”
US president Barack Obama has said that if Mr Assad’s regime were to use chemical or biological weapons, this would be a “red line” issue.
Mr Fabius said Russia and China are “of the same position”, but acknowledged frustration at their continuing support for Mr Assad.
Syria’s leadership has said it could use chemical or biological weapons if it was attacked from outside.
Syria is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas and Scud missiles capable of delivering lethal chemicals.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says its new president is heading to Syria on a three-day visit – his first since he took office.
The ICRC said that Peter Maurer will arrive in Syria today and will meet with President Assad and several of his ministers.
The Red Cross said the talks will address the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” and the difficulties which the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent face in reaching people affected by Syria’s civil war.
Mr Maurer, a Swiss career diplomat, took over from Jakob Kellenberger on July 1.
Syria’s violence has escalated in recent weeks. Activists say August was the bloodiest month since the uprising began in March 2011, with about 5,000 people killed.