BEIRUT — The first day of a cease-fire in the Syrian conflict in observance of the Eid al-Adha holiday went as many observers had expected: It was violated within hours, and both sides blamed each other.
The four-day truce, which began Friday with the Muslim holiday, was brokered by the international envoy to Syria and was intended to provide at least a brief respite from the bloody violence, as well as possibly begin a long-term cessation of fighting.
Instead, opposition activists said 49 people were killed across the country — a lower daily death toll than has become the norm in Syria — including about 10 who died after a car bomb went off in a Damascus neighborhood Friday afternoon.
The bomb detonated in the Zuhour neighborhood, near a vegetable market that had been transformed for the holiday into a playground. At the time of the explosion, the area was crowded with families. Among the dead were several children.
Video from the blast’s immediate aftermath showed residents searching for bodies amid destroyed building fronts as fires burned in the street. State media said more than 10 people were killed.
The opposition rebels and the government of President Bashar Assad traded blame for the explosion, which seemed to effectively end what was already a shaky cease-fire.
Despite pessimism by Lakhdar Brahimi, envoy for the United Nations and Arab League, over his chances for success in brokering a peace in the conflict, he said he still had hope that the four-day truce could lead to a lasting cease-fire. Yet even as Assad’s government announced Thursday that it had agreed to a halt in fighting, few believed the truce would succeed. Previous attempts at a cease-fire have failed, and violence in Syria has escalated.
There was no broad consensus among rebel groups about observing the truce, with some saying they would put up their arms only if regime forces did first, while others said the government needed to release all detainees and withdraw from cities before there could be a cease-fire.
In April, Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, brokered a cease-fire that fell apart within days.
Despite clear indications from both sides that they are not interested in dialogue or a political transition, international leaders are still pushing for diplomacy.
Meanwhile, in the southern province of Dara, state media reported that rebels detonated a car bomb near a military checkpoint, injuring 11 soldiers.
In the Damascus suburb of Harasta, 10 people were killed when the town again came under government shelling, as it has been for several days now, activists said.
In the northern city of Maarat Numan, which has been the scene of fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and loyalist forces for more than two weeks, government shelling began at 5 a.m. on all parts of the city, activist Ahmad Halabi said.
As fighting continued in some parts of the country Friday, however, many Syrians took advantage of the relative calm after morning Eid prayers to take to the streets in antigovernment demonstrations. Some of the protests were the largest seen in months, as in many parts of the country the armed conflict has overshadowed the uprising’s early displays of peaceful dissent.
Several demonstrations occurred in the country’s largest city, Aleppo, despite clashes reported by activists that continued unabated throughout the night, and shelling began early in the afternoon.
“Gunfire is coming down like rain,” one Aleppo resident said. “What kind of a cease-fire is this? And what kind of Eid is this?”