Lakhdar Brahimi on November 29, 2012 at UN headquarters in New York
International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (pictured in New York last month) arrived in the Syrian capital on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, on a new mission to try to resolve a brutal conflict which has raged for almost two years. © Stan Honda - AFP/File
Lakhdar Brahimi on November 29, 2012 at UN headquarters in New York
AFP
Last updated: December 24, 2012

Peace envoy Brahimi back in Damascus

More than 60 people were killed in a regime air strike on a bakery in a rebel-held town on Sunday, monitors said, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi launched a new bid to resolve Syria's brutal 21-month conflict.

In one of the deadliest incidents of the conflict, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike hit a bakery in Halfaya in the central province of Hama, killing more than 60 people and wounding at least 50.

Many of the wounded were in critical condition, it said.

"In Halfaya, regime forces bombarded a bakery and committed a massacre that killed dozens of people, including women and children, and wounded many others," said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists.

"A MiG (jet) has attacked! Look at (President Bashar al-) Assad's weapons. Look, world, look at the Halfaya massacre," says an unidentified cameraman shooting an amateur video distributed by the Observatory.

The footage showed a bombed one-storey block and a crater in the road.

Bloodied bodies lay on the road, while others could be seen in the rubble. Men carried victims out on their backs, among them at least one woman, the video showed.

Russia said on Monday it would be "political suicide" for the government of Assad if it used chemical weapons against the armed opposition.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview released by the English-language state television channel RT that Assad had given Moscow repeated assurances he had no plans to order such an attack.

"I do not believe Syria would use chemical weapons," Lavrov said in comments translated by the channel into English. "It would be a political suicide for the government if it does."

Russia has remained Syria's main ally throughout 21 months of violence.

On Monday, rebels launched an all-out assault on army positions across Hama, which is home to strong anti-regime sentiment.

During the summer, rights groups accused government forces of committing war crimes by dropping bombs and using artillery on or near several bakeries in the northern province of Aleppo.

Another of the bloodiest attacks in the Syrian conflict was on a bread line in the Qadi Askar district of Aleppo city on August 16 that left 60 people dead, according to local hospital records.

International envoy Brahimi, meanwhile, travelled to Damascus overland from neighbouring Lebanon on a previously unannounced visit, officials said.

The UN-Arab League envoy last visited on October 19, but since then there has been fighting between government forces and rebels on the road to Damascus airport.

During his October visit he met Assad and other officials to clinch a temporary ceasefire for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.

At least 44,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March 2011, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory.

Shortly before Sunday's air strike, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi reiterated calls for national dialogue. "We tell those who do not want dialogue to engage in talks, because time is running out," he told reporters.

The minister also played down Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa's assessment that the conflict could not be resolved by military means.

"It is one opinion among 23 million opinions in Syria, which is a state led by institutions and leaders who will give the final opinion," said Zohbi.

Sharaa said in a Lebanese newspaper interview published last Monday that a clear winner was unlikely to emerge in Syria's war and he preferred a negotiated solution, in remarks at odds with Assad.

Including those killed in Halfaya, at least 174 people -- 108 of them civilians -- were killed on Sunday across Syria, said the Observatory.

Other air strikes included a raid in Aleppo province. "At least 13 people were killed in an air raid on the town of Sfeira," said the group, which relies on a network of doctors, activists and lawyers for its information.

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