DAMASCUS, Syria: Syrian government forces for the first time hit the country’s largest Palestinian refugee neighborhood with airstrikes on Sunday, killing at least eight people in the Yarmouk district of Damascus and reportedly driving dozens of formerly pro-government Palestinian fighters to defect to the rebels.
New signs emerged on Sunday of political pressure on President Bashar Assad. Assad’s vice president was quoted as saying neither side could win the war and calling for “new partners” in a unity government, a possible sign that at least some in the government were exploring new ways out of the crisis. The comments came as two close allies, the government of Iran and the leader of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, appeared to slightly temper their support.
In Yarmouk, burned body parts littered the ground at the Sheik Abdul Qader mosque, which had offered shelter to Palestinians and others displaced by fighting in other areas. Minutes before, a reporter saw a Syrian fighter jet fire rockets at the camp. Women, crying children and white-bearded men thronged the streets with hurriedly packed bags, not sure where to look for safety.
For many Yarmouk residents — refugees from conflict with Israel and their descendants — the attacks shattered what was left of the Syrian government’s claim to be a champion and protector of Palestinians.
“For decades the Assad regime was talking about the Palestinians’ rights,” said a Palestinian refugee who gave his name as Abu Ammar. “But Bashar al-Assad has killed more of us today than Israel did in its latest war on Gaza.”
He added: “What does Bashar expect from us after today? All of us will be Free Syrian Army fighters.”
Several of Assad’s allies signaled a new push for a peaceful solution. Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for an end to military action, the release of political prisoners and a broad-based dialogue to form a transitional government that would hold free elections, Iran’s state news agency reported.
In neighboring Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared to acknowledge for the first time that the Syrian uprising is at least in part driven by popular sentiment.
Assad’s vice president, Farouk al-Shara, said that neither the government nor the rebels could end the conflict militarily, the pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported. He called for a solution involving a cease-fire brokered by international leaders that would establish a “unity government with wide powers.”