DAMASCUS: UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called Monday for a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming four-day Muslim holiday of Eidul Azha, as the revolt entered its 20th month with a death toll of more than 33,000.
Brahimi made his call as he shuttled between Syria's neighbours, which have been bitterly divided by the conflict along the confessional lines that have traditionally riven the Islamic world.
The envoy was in Shia-majority Iraq on Monday after holding talks in Shia-ruled Iran, closest ally of the minority Alawite-dominated Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Iraq has striven to remain neutral in the conflict.
Late last week, Brahimi visited Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the two Sunni-led states which have been the biggest champions of the Syrian opposition.
Turkey said on Sunday that it had banned Syrian civilian aircraft from its airspace, mirroring a similar move by Damascus, as tensions between the neighbours soared over Ankara's confiscation of a cargo of radar equipment from a civilian flight from Moscow last week.
“Brahimi has appealed to the Iranian authorities to assist in achieving a ceasefire in Syria during the forthcoming Eidul Azha, one of the holiest holidays celebrated by the Muslims around the world,” a statement from the envoy said.
Brahimi “underlined that the crisis in Syria was getting worse every day and stressed the urgent need to stop the bloodshed,” it added.
“He reiterated the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a ceasefire and a halt to the flow of arms to both sides. A ceasefire, he said, would help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop.”
The Eidul Azha holiday later this month marks the climax of the annual Muslim pilgrimage which is an obligation for the faithful who can afford it once it in a lifetime.
The mounting spat between Damascus and Ankara threatened to mar arrangements for the pilgrimage.
The ban on Turkish flights entering Syrian airspace, through which pilgrims would normally travel to the holy places in Saudi Arabia, had an immediate impact on Turks wanting to take part in the Haj.
Even last Wednesday, when Turkish jets intercepted the Syrian cargo sparking the latest escalation, a first aircraft headed for Saudi Arabia from the Turkish city of Bursa made an emergency landing in southeastern Turkey rather than risk flying on through Syrian airspace.
The matching moves on flights come amid increasing tensions on the long border between Syria and Turkey, large swathes of which have been seized by rebel fighters.
On Oct 3, five Turkish civilians were killed by cross-border fire against the rebels, that Syria charges are receiving arms from Gulf Arab states through Turkey.
Turkey has given sanctuary to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, most of them civilians but including deserting officers who have formed the kernel of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Disaster agency AFAD said on Monday that the number of Syrian refugeees in Turkey has now reached 100,363 as Ankara called on Europe to do more to help.
In an interview with German daily Die Welt, Turkey's Europe minister Egemen Bagis said: “Europe should start thinking about the people who have fled Syria into Turkey.”
“Europe is in a state of paralysis. There is no progress because it is completely fixated on the euro crisis,” he said.
The European Union has slapped 19 rounds of sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The latest, imposed on Monday, entailed assets freezes and travel bans on 28 Syrian individuals and two firms.
The 27-nation bloc has now blacklisted a total 181 individuals and 54 firms for their alleged links to the Assad regime.
Inside Syria, at least eight soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels at a military checkpoint near the battleground northern city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The city, which has been the theatre of intense conflict for the past three months, was rocked by a bomb at dawn while a string of rebel-held neighbourhoods were bombarded by the army, the Britain-based watchdog said.
South of Aleppo, in Idlib province, heavy fighting raged for a third day around the strategic Wadi Daif military base, near the town of Maaret al-Numan which was captured by rebels on Tuesday last week, the Observatory said.
Eight military vehicles were destroyed in fighting at a military post elsewhere in the province, it added.
In Damascus province, the army on Monday sent shells smashing into a belt of eastern towns held by the rebels, the watchdog said.
In the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, shelling by the army of rebel positions killed three children aged six, seven and 12, it added.