DAMASCUS, (AFP) — Syrian warplanes pounded rebel bastions on Wednesday after a day of fighting that left more than 180 dead, as UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi urged China to help end the violence.
In a week that has seen unprecedented air strikes, regime fighter jets again pummelled rebel-controlled areas east of Damascus where clashes have raged for months.
At least five raids were carried out in the capital’s eastern suburbs, where 30 civilians, including five children, were killed in air strikes and fighting the day before, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were among 182 people killed across Syria on Tuesday, said the Observatory, adding more than 36,000 people had now died in the 19-month conflict.
Analysts say the regime has boosted air strikes in recent days in a bid to reverse opposition gains on the ground, especially in Syria’s north, and to prevent the rebels from taking control of further territory around the capital.
Fierce clashes erupted Wednesday in the northwestern province of Idlib, where rebels attacked highway military checkpoints and battles raged over the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and the Wadi Daif army base.
After the heaviest wave of air strikes yet on Monday, on Tuesday a fighter jet hit targets inside Damascus for the first time, dropping four bombs on an eastern neighbourhood near to an opposition-held suburb.
Rebels also claimed responsibility for the killing of a senior air force general, Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, whom state television said had been assassinated by “terrorists”.
Visiting Beijing, peace envoy Brahimi said he hoped China would play an active role in helping to bring a halt to Syria’s violence.
Greeting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in front of reporters, Brahimi said he hoped “China can play an active role in solving the events in Syria,” without elaborating.
Both China and Russia have exercised their veto in the UN Security Council to block resolutions aimed at putting more pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
Yang thanked Brahimi for his work and said he hoped their discussions — their third in two months — would promote “mutual understanding” and “the appropriate handling of the Syrian issue”.
Beijing did not reveal the content of the talks but reiterated it would push for a “political resolution”.
“China has been playing an important and positive role in pushing for the political resolution to the Syrian issue and will continue to work with the international community,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
Brahimi, who succeeded former United Nations chief Kofi Annan after he quit over what he called a lack of international support, is due to present new proposals for resolving the Syria conflict to the Security Council in November.
His two-day visit to China, which ends Wednesday, came after he met Russia’s foreign minister in Moscow on Monday and described the conflict as going from bad to worse.
The Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring, has escalated into an armed insurgency.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals, said Wednesday the death toll across the country had reached 36,000 people since the start of the conflict.
An average of 165 people have been killed per day day since August 1, it said, and the overall toll includes nearly 27,000 civilians and armed rebels and more than 9,000 government soldiers.
Most of the rebels, like the population, are members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad’s government is dominated by his Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
A senior foreign ministry official in Moscow meanwhile said Russia was in contact with Turkey to recover cargo confiscated by Ankara from a Moscow-Damascus passenger plane, but that no progress had been made.
Turkey scrambled fighter jets earlier this month to intercept the Syrian Air passenger jet, forcing it to land at Ankara’s Esenboga airport and seizing the cargo before the plane was allowed to continue its journey.
Turkey said the plane was carrying military equipment but Russia said it was a legal cargo of equipment that Moscow wants back.
“The contacts (with Turkey for the return of the cargo) are continuing,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
“As far as I know, no practical action has so far been taken,” he added.
Russia is the main supplier of arms to the Assad regime and has been criticised by the United States, the European Union and Turkey for refusing to cut its military cooperation.