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Syria ushers in New Year with more violence

Syrians wait for bread at a bakery in the northern city of Aleppo on December 31, 2012
Syrians wait for bread at a bakery in the northern city of Aleppo on December 31, 2012. Syrians woke up to air strikes near Damascus on New Year's Day as Aleppo airport was closed after repeated rebel attacks, casting doubts on diplomatic drives to end th

Syrians woke up to air strikes near Damascus on New Year's Day as Aleppo airport was closed after repeated rebel attacks, casting doubts on diplomatic drives to end the 21-month conflict.

The violence came a day after activists reported finding the corpses of dozens of people who had been tortured, another sign of the gruesome nature of the conflict, and as the regime said it welcomed any initiative for talks to end it.

Warplanes bombed the northeastern and southwestern suburbs of Damascus in a fresh bid to push rebels further from the capital, and troops attacked insurgent strongholds on the road to Damascus airport.

"Three air strikes by MiG planes have targeted Daraya since the morning, and the shelling is continuing," Abu Kinan, an activist from the town southwest of Damascus told AFP over the Internet.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids came amid fierce clashes near the towns of Bait Saham and Aqraba along the airport road, and that shelling killed three civilians in nearby Ziabiyeh.

A picture from the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows the southwest town of Daraya on December 27, 2012
A handout picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows destruction in the southwest town of Daraya on December 27, 2012.

Battles have raged for weeks outside Damascus where insurgents have set up rear bases.

Analysts say the army is set on taking total control of Damascus and its immediate surroundings to create conditions necessary for future dialogue.

In northern Syria, where insurgents hold huge swathes of territory, authorities announced the temporary closure of Aleppo international airport after rebel attacks in recent days.

"There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster," an airport official told AFP.

But he added that the airport would be closed for a "very short period of time" while the army tries to regain control of rebel-held areas around it.

The Observatory reported that the closure came after a blast, likely due to rebel shelling, hit a civil airplane as it took off on Saturday.

Violence ravaged Syria into 2013 with the gruesome discovery on Monday of what activists said were dozens of corpses in a Damascus neighbourhood.

A Syrian rebel reads the Koran at a checkpoint in Karmel al-Jabl district in eastern Aleppo on December 20, 2012
A Syrian rebel reads the Koran, Islam's holy book, at a checkpoint in Karmel al-Jabl district in eastern Aleppo on December 20, 2012.

"Thirty bodies were found in the Barzeh district. "They bore signs of torture and have so far not been identified," the Observatory said.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission gave a higher estimate of 50 bodies, saying "their heads were cut and disfigured to the point that it was no longer possible to identify" them.

The video posted online by activists showed the bodies of three young boys with their hands bound behind their backs and their throats slit.

Their bodies were discovered on Monday in Jubar.

The authenticity of the footage could not be verified.

On the diplomatic front, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi said on Monday the government was open to talks aimed at solving the conflict that monitors say has now killed more then 46,000 people.

"The government is working to support the national reconciliation project and will respond to any regional or international initiative that would solve the current crisis through dialogue and peaceful means and prevent foreign intervention in Syria's internal affairs," Halaqi told parliament.

The airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which has been closed temporarily, on December 12, 2012
The airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 12, 2012.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday he had crafted a ceasefire plan "that could be adopted by the international community".

The proposal involved a ceasefire, the formation of a government and an election plan, and was based on an agreement world powers reached in Geneva in June.

The premier said the revolt must be resolved only by the Syrian people, adding that the country was on track to "declare victory over its enemies".

The opposition has already rejected the Geneva accord, insisting that Assad must go before any dialogue can take place.

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