Syria truce appears unlikely

Narciso Contreras/AP The beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo again was under siege Tuesday, with this man severely injured by an artillery shell that landed near a bakery. Fellow citizens took him to a hospital for treatment.

BEIRUT — The U.N. Security Council gave unanimous backing Wednesday to a four-day truce proposed by the international mediator for Syria to mark a major Muslim holiday, after he warned that the failure of yet another cease-fire plan would only worsen the fighting.

Yet even this modest effort — the international community’s only plan for scaling back the violence — appears doomed.

Previous cease-fire missions have failed, in part because neither Syrian President Bashar Assad nor rebels trying to topple him had an incentive to end their bloody war of attrition.

Both sides think they can still make gains on the battlefield even as they are locked in a stalemate, and neither has faith in negotiations on a political transition.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, has proposed that both sides lay down their arms during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Friday.

The Security Council is normally divided on Syria, but Assad allies Russia and China joined other council members in endorsing the idea of a temporary truce that is meant to pave the way for talks on ending Syria’s 19-month conflict.

The response on the ground ranged from lukewarm to downright rejection. Syrian government officials said they were still studying the idea, while Syria’s political opposition said it was skeptical of the regime’s promises.

A rebel commander dismissed the plan as irrelevant, and a radical Islamist group fighting alongside the rebels said it won’t comply with any truce.

As Brahimi briefed the Security Council, the death toll since the start of the conflict in March 2011 crossed the threshold of 35,000, activists said, and more violence was reported across the country.

Two car bombs killed at least eight bus passengers in the capital of Damascus and 12 regime soldiers near a military checkpoint in the north, while regime airstrikes on villages near a besieged army base killed 12 civilians, activists said.

They also posted a video showing at least 13 bodies laid out Wednesday in a room in a Damascus suburb, some of them women and children. Each side blamed the other for the deaths.

Brahimi told the Security Council that he hopes a truce will allow humanitarian aid to reach war-stricken areas and start transition talks, said U.N. diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

However, months of bloodshed and deep distrust between the combatants make it unlikely that they will embark on the path outlined by Brahimi. The Syrian opposition said it won’t negotiate unless Assad resigns, something the Syrian leader refuses to do. “The Syrian regime throughout its reign and up until now signs everything but violates everything,” said Haitham Maleh, a veteran Syrian opposition leader.