The heads of the Arab League and the United Nations issued a joint call to Syria’s warring parties on Friday urging them to observe a ceasefire over the Eid al-Adha holiday from October 26 to 28.
Nabil al-Arabi and Ban Ki-moon pleaded with those fighting “to heed the call of the special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for a ceasefire and a cessation of all violence in all its forms during the period of the Eid al-Adha,” according to AFP.
As many as 239 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Friday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists at the Local Coordination Committees.
“The longer the violence lasts, the more difficult it will be to find a political solution and rebuild Syria,” they said in a joint statement.
Brahimi, envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, has been crisscrossing the region with the aim of convincing President Bashar al-Assad’s main backers and his foes to support a truce during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha next week.
Brahimi will meet Syrian officials over the next few days in an effort to secure a brief ceasefire in the worsening war between Assad’s government and rebel forces.
Brahimi, who arrived in the capital Damascus on Friday afternoon, will meet Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Saturday morning, the U.N. spokesman in Damascus, Khaled al-Masri, said. He did not say whether the envoy would meet Assad.
“We will talk about the ceasefire and the Syrian issue in general. It is important to decrease the violence -- we will talk with the government and political parties and civil society about the Syrian issue,” Brahimi told reporters upon arrival, according to Reuters.
The violence showed no sign of abating, with opposition activists reporting heavy street clashes in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and intensified army bombing of towns along the strategic north-south highway.
Iran also backed the ceasefire call but added that the main problem in Syria was foreign interference -- a reference to support for the rebels by Gulf Arab states, the United Sates and other Western powers, and Turkey.
“We consider the establishment of an immediate ceasefire an important step in helping the Syrian people,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian said, as quoted by Mehr news agency.
Despite supportive words from backers of the warring factions, the task of securing even a temporary ceasefire is daunting in an intensifying conflict in which more than 33,000 people have been killed over 19 months.
A previous ceasefire in April collapsed after just a few days, with each side blaming the other. Mediator Kofi Annan resigned his post in frustration a few months later. Next week’s truce would be self-imposed, with no international observers.
A rebel group calling itself the Joint Command for Military and Revolution Councils in Syria said in a video statement that it was willing to respect the ceasefire on condition that the Assad government released detainees, particularly women, and lifted the siege of the central city of Homs.
It also called for a halt in air strikes and for access to humanitarian aid -- something Assad has denied to several international organizations. It also said the army must not take advantage of the truce to fortify its positions.
Other rebel groups say a decision has not yet been taken.
The war pitting Assad’s troops against the loosely organized rebel army trying to end his 12 years in power has intensified in recent months.
On Thursday, 240 people were killed across the country in fighting and bombardments, from Damascus to Aleppo, the country’s commercial center.
Activists said that on Thursday planes had bombed apartment buildings and a mosque in the town of Maarat al-Numan, in the northern province of Idlib, which straddles the north-south highway, connecting the capital to Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group that has a network of informants in Syria, said bombings continued into Friday in the same area.