Syria agrees to ceasefire during Eid

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The Syrian government and some rebel leaders have agreed to a ceasefire during the forthcoming Muslim four-day holiday, it was announced yesterday

The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Syrian president Bashar Assad will issue a statement on accepting a truce. The Eid al-Adha holiday begins tomorrow.

The fighting in Syria has claimed more than 34,000 lives since March last year, according to activists.

The announcement came as government forces intensified air strikes on rebel-held area near the besieged city of Aleppo.

The Syrian foreign ministry stressed that the halt of military operations during Eid al-Adha is still “being studied” by the General Command of the Army and the Syrian armed forces, and that “the final position on this matter will be issued on Thursday”.

Abdelbaset Sieda, the head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, said he had little hope the truce would take hold.

He said opposition fighters have told him they are willing to adhere to it, but will respond if attacked by regime forces.

“This regime, we don’t trust it, because it is saying something and doing something else on the ground,” he said.

The air strikes hit the village of Mar Shureen near a strategic rebel-held town in the north of the country, killing five members of an extended family.

The village is just outside the town of Maaret al-Numan, about a mile from a Syrian military camp that troops and rebels have been fighting over for several days.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government aircraft hit the village in the morning.

The dead include a father and his two sons, aged 10 and 24, as well as two other relatives, a woman and a young man.

The truce proposal was rejected by an al Qaida-inspired Islamist group. Jabhat al-Nusra called it a “filthy game” and said it has no faith that Assad’s regime would respect the truce.

Meanwhile tension in the Middle East increased further after Gaza militants pummelled Israel with dozens of rockets and mortars and Israeli air strikes killed two Palestinians in a sharp escalation of violence following a landmark visit to the coastal territory by the leader of Qatar.

Hostilities have been simmering for weeks, but erupted into barrages from Gaza immediately after the Qatari ruler left the territory. Militants from the ruling Hamas movement joined the fray, undermining the emir’s appeal to avoid confrontation with Israel.

Israeli leaders vowed that their country would not reconcile itself to attacks from the coastal strip.

“We didn’t ask for this escalation and didn’t initiate it,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after touring a missile defence battery. “But if it continues, we are prepared to embark on a far more extensive and penetrating operation.”

Asked if Israel was considering a ground operation in the Palestinian territory, defence minister Ehud Barak said that “if we need a ground operation there will be a ground operation. We will do whatever necessary to stop this wave” of violence.

The Israeli military said 72 rockets and mortars landed in Israel and that Israeli aircraft struck Gaza four times.

Libya’s government has won control of one of the last strongholds of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists after fierce battles that left dozens dead and thousands displaced.

The capture of Bani Walid was a triumph for the rulers who replaced Gaddafi’s regime, but the fact that it took a year underlined the fractious nature of the country and the new regime’s inability to impose its authority over squabbling tribes and heavily armed militias.