Last updated: 18 December, 2012

Syrian warplanes bombard Palestinian camp

Bashar al-Assad’s deputy said a clear winner is unlikely to emerge in Syria’s war and he prefers a negotiated solution, in remarks at odds with the president, as clashes raged across the country.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi toured Aleppo, meanwhile, in the most high-profile visit to Syria’s second city and commercial capital by a regime official since the outbreak of fighting for it in July.

State television said Halaqi’s trip was to “assess hardships faced by the city,” while analysts said it was designed to show the regime still had control in an area that has drawn in an increasing number of Islamist militants.

Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa gave a gloomy assessment of the conflict, however, as rebels launched an all-out assault on the central city of Hama, regime warplanes bombed eastern Damascus and refugees fled a second day of clashes at a Palestinian camp in the capital.

“No opposition can end the battle militarily, just as the security forces and army cannot achieve a decisive conclusion,” Sharaa told Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper.

“Every day that passes, we are moving further away from a military or political solution.

“(Assad) does not hide his desire to press on militarily until the final victory (and he believes that) after this, political dialogue will actually still be possible.”

A Sunni Muslim, Sharaa has for decades served the Assad regime dominated by the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, but has rarely been seen in public since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising erupted in March 2011.

The UN humanitarian chief said Monday she has asked the Syrian government for 10 more aid groups to work in the country and will increase contacts with the opposition to help those in need.

Valerie Amos made her demands during a visit to Damascus on Saturday amid a growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

More than half a million Syrians have fled their homes to neighboring countries, according to UN estimates.

Iran and Turkey offered their own proposals aimed at ending the conflict.

Tehran’s six-point plan included an immediate halt to violence under UN supervision, lifting sanctions against Syria, freeing political prisoners and a dialogue to form a transitional government to organise free elections.

But Arab and Western nations including the United States reject any Iranian involvement in the crisis, saying Tehran is discredited over its unwavering support for Assad.

Turkey, a former ally turned fierce critic of Damascus, reportedly called for Assad to step down within the first three months of 2013 and for the transition to be overseen by the opposition National Coalition.

The United Nations, meanwhile, said it was sending chemical weapons kits to the UN force monitoring a ceasefire zone on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel because of growing fears over Damascus’s deadly non-conventional arsenal.

In Washington, the US Treasury said it had designated former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha a “global terrorist” for aiding Assad’s regime to carry out attacks in his country which neighbours Syria.

On Sunday, regime warplanes bombed the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in Damascus, prompting UN chief Ban Ki-moon to express alarm at the “dramatic escalation of violence”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes killed at least eight civilians.

Residents said more people fled the camp on Monday as new clashes erupted between rebels and the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

East of Damascus, warplanes attacked the Eastern Ghuta region, while smoke was seen rising from nearby Zamalka, also raided by jets.

Rebel fighters launched an all-out assault on army positions across Hama in some of the worst violence in the central province for months, forcing troops to pull back from several locations, said the Observatory.

Colonel Kassem Saadeddin of the rebel Free Syrian Army said the battle to “liberate” Hama province had begun and issued a deadline of 1100 GMT on Tuesday for regime forces to withdraw.

Army reinforcements travelled from a military airport west of Damascus to Daraya farther south, where about 8,000 residents were trapped by a regime offensive backed by tanks.

“It is a tragic situation today in Daraya… There are fierce clashes on all fronts,” activist Abu Kinan said from Daraya, where more than 500 people were reportedly killed in August in the conflict’s bloodiest massacre.

Nationwide, at least 98 people were killed on Monday, said the Observatory, which puts the overall death toll from the 21-month uprising at more than 43,000 based on accounts from activists and medics on the ground.