Syria fighting flares anew as UN ends mission
Syrian forces shell the northern battleground of Aleppo and fierce fighting is reported in Damascus.
MAREH - Syrian forces shelled the northern battleground of Aleppo and fierce fighting was reported in Damascus on Friday, a day after the United Nations called time on its observer mission.
The country was also bracing for demonstrations after weekly prayers, events that have often triggered violence during an increasingly barbaric conflict that is now in its 18th month and shows no signs of abating.
The UN announced its decision on Thursday, with the international community still deeply at odds over how to end the bloodshed and also deal with the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said, referring to the mission whose mandate is due to end at midnight on Sunday.
Russia has called a meeting in New York Friday of UN ambassadors from the so-called Geneva action group on Syria but it was not clear whether Western powers -- still angry at Moscow and Beijing for their vetoes of the UN resolutions -- would attend.
The observer mission is ending less than three weeks after Kofi Annan quit as envoy for Syria, complaining that divisions among world powers and the increasing militarisation of the conflict had hindered his peace plan.
More than 23,000 people have died since the revolt against Assad's iron-fisted rule broke out in March 2011, according to activists, while the UN puts the toll at around 17,000.
In Syria, the army clashed with rebels near the main military airport in Damascus and shelled southern parts of the capital as well as districts in the northern hub of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fresh violence was reported after a day which saw 180 people killed across the country, the majority of them civilians, according to the Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground.
It also reported that the bodies of 65 unidentified people were found in Qatana, a town southwest of Damascus, without providing any further details.
It is impossible to independently verify the tolls.
On Thursday, activists reported that Syrian forces shelled a group of people queuing outside a bakery in the Qadi Askar district of eastern Aleppo, the city at the centre of the battle between the regime and armed rebels.
Rights groups accused the Syrian regime of another atrocity on Wednesday when around 40 people, including women and children, were killed in a massive air strike on civilians in the rebel bastion of Aazaz north of Aleppo.
In a damning report this week, a UN panel said government forces and their militia allies had committed crimes against humanity including murder and torture, while also accusing the rebels of war crimes.
"We know we are no longer just collateral victims of the conflict, Bashar is actually targeting civilians," said Yasmine Shashati, a resident of the southwestern Aleppo district of Saif al-Dawla.