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May 30, 2017

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'Heaviest' air raids shake Damascus after truce flop

DAMASCUS--Explosions shook Damascus on Monday as warplanes launched their heaviest air raids yet and a car bomb struck, with the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy saying Syria's conflict was going from bad to worse.

The air raid blasts, heard coming from several outlying districts, rattled windows in the center of the capital and were among the most intense in Damascus since the beginning of Syria's 19-month conflict, an AFP correspondent said.

They were followed by a car bombing that state television said killed at least 10 people in the predominantly Christian and Druze area of Jaramana, just outside Damascus. A watchdog said 12 people had died and 15 been wounded.

The violence came as world powers looked to pick up the pieces of a failed effort for a Muslim holiday ceasefire, with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow and due in China this week as he prepares to present new ideas to the U.N. Security Council.

"I have said and it bears repeating again and again that the Syrian crisis is very, very dangerous, the situation is bad and getting worse," Brahimi, who will travel to China on Tuesday and Wednesday, said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

On Monday, the final day of the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, the Syrian military launched at least 48 air strikes around the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"These are the heaviest air strikes since warplanes were first deployed over the summer," the watchdog's director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

"The regime is looking to make real gains. There are battles in all of these areas being hit," said Abdel Rahman.

Warplanes struck at least 11 targets around Damascus, the Observatory said, with attacks focused on rebel positions in a northeastern belt where President Bashar al-Assad's regime has been battling to take over opposition strongholds.

A Syrian security official told AFP the military was trying to prevent the rebels from boosting their hold on the area.

The Observatory reported another 11 air raids on villages and towns across the northwestern province of Idlib, where regime forces and rebels have been locked in fierce fighting over the Wadi Daif military base.

The truce proposed by Brahimi for Eid, which started Friday, fell apart amid clashes, shelling and car bombings only hours after it had been due to take effect.

More than 400 people have died since the start of Eid, according to the Observatory, including 35 so far on Monday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he was "deeply disappointed" by the collapse of the truce and urged all sides "to live up to their obligations and promote a ceasefire."

U.N. diplomats say Brahimi was realistic about the cease-fire's chances and is now looking ahead to new efforts to tackle the crisis.

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