Violence scattered during cease-fire in Syria

5 killed, 30 hurt in car bombing near playground

Despite a holiday cease-fire, a car bomb damaged this building Friday in Damascus, Syria.
SANA via Associated Press
Despite a holiday cease-fire, a car bomb damaged this building Friday in Damascus, Syria.

BEIRUT — Scattered clashes and reports of a deadly bombing near a Damascus playground marred the first day of a four-day cease-fire in the Syria conflict on Friday, but in most parts of the country the level of violence appeared to subside because of the truce, called in deference to the most important Muslim holiday of the year.

With the threat of violence diminished, protesters emerged onto the streets of cities and towns across the country. Syrian state television showed President Bashar Assad making a rare public appearance, attending the morning prayers for the start of the holiday, Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, in a central Damascus mosque. There was no sound, but Assad was seen to be chatting amicably with other worshippers.

The most brazen violation appeared to be a car bomb that exploded near what state television said was a playground in southern Damascus. The television broadcast pictures of a firetruck hosing down building wreckage that the broadcast said was devastation from the bomb.


There was significant damage and a number of casualties, the official report said, without being more specific. Amateur video uploaded on YouTube showed extensive destruction from the blast.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence from abroad, said the blast killed five people and injured more than 30, including children.

The reports said the explosion occurred in Zuhur, a poor, mostly Sunni neighborhood. Previous car bombs, often claimed by extremist organizations, usually targeted security branches.

The Syrian Army announced late Thursday that it would cease military operations from Friday to Monday in observance of the holiday. The announcement, read out on Syrian state television, made clear that the government reserved the right to respond to any military action or even resupply operations undertaken by rebel forces.

The truce was likely to be tested repeatedly given the splintered nature of fighting across Syria, although the bulk of the opposition seemed to accept respecting it if the government did.


The cease-fire was negotiated by Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy trying to inaugurate a peace process.

Respect for the cease-fire was uneven, with some reports of fighting filtering in before and after the dawn prayers. Since there was no official deadline for the cease-fire to begin, and no monitors or outside enforcement, its start and stop times were somewhat ad-hoc.

Fighters in the northern city of Idlib, for example, said that it was quiet. But there were reports of clashes around a military base in northern Syria, and one neighborhood in the central city of Homs reported that it had been hit by six missiles.

The government, apparently anticipating street demonstrations, had stationed security forces near mosques. The security forces tried to break up some of the protests, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It said three people were wounded by gunfire in a hamlet near Daraa, but activists reported in other places that the security forces had resorted to tear gas or that Shabiha, the plainclothes militia of government supporters, had been harassing men headed to prayers or to cemeteries to visit graves.


Protests long suppressed by wrenching violence emerged once again onto the streets, calling for Assad’s ouster and in some places for his execution.

The size of the protests themselves, larger and more widespread than they have been for many weeks, was the strongest indication that the truce had made a difference. Although the uprising started as a peaceful protest movement in March 2011, the escalating carnage that has claimed tens of thousands of lives eventually drove the demonstrators indoors.

Videos broadcast on YouTube showed protesters chanting antigovernment slogans in Hajar al-Aswad, a southern Damascus suburb.

The video could not be independently verified as having been made Friday, but activists described similar scenes from around Aleppo in the north to Deir al-Zour in the east and Daraa in the south.

In announcing the cease-fire plan Wednesday, Brahimi said that he hoped it could serve as a building block to something longer and more sustainable.

The Syrian Army statement said that it would retaliate if the ‘‘terrorist groups’’ — its blanket description for all the armed opposition — carried out any kind of attack, tried to reinforce their positions or resupply their ammunition, or if more foreign fighters infiltrated the country.