Last updated: September 10, 2012 5:32 pm

Assad and rebels draw UN fire

An image grab from video showing explosions alleged to be in Zabadani, outside Damascus©AFP

An image grab from video released by the Syrian opposition Shaam News Network dated July 19 2012 shows explosions alleged to be in Zabadani, outside Damascus

The UN human rights chief has attacked both Syrian rebels and regime forces over “devastating” abuses, as Middle Eastern diplomats launched fresh efforts to end the country’s deepening civil war.

Navi Pillay said on Monday that she was “equally concerned” about opposition violations, including murder, torture and bombings, as about government shelling of civilian areas with heavy weapons.

Her remarks came as state media said at least 30 people had died in a bomb blast in Aleppo, which is gripped by a growing humanitarian crisis amid pitched battles in some districts and attacks by regime helicopters and warplanes.

Ms Pillay, who has previously stressed the more heavily armed regime’s much greater responsibility for an estimated 20,000 or more deaths in Syria, again condemned government bombardments of residential areas for causing high casualties, mass displacement of people and a severe humanitarian crisis.

“I am concerned that they may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” she said. “I am equally concerned about violations by anti-government forces, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture as well as the recently increased use of improvised explosive devices.”

At least 30 civilians died and 64 were wounded in a bomb attack in Aleppo on Sunday night, Syria’s state news agency said. Opposition activists said the casualties were members of loyalist forces, adding that the blast was aimed at a military police headquarters and a building being used as a barracks by regime troops.

Aleppo, a northern commercial centre and former regime stronghold, whose capture would give the rebels a bridgehead to push south towards Damascus, has become a centre of the conflict for the past six weeks, with regime warplanes, helicopters and ground forces pounding opposition occupied areas.

One resident of the city – parts of which are short of water and other essential services – said it was “terrible to stand here and watch your city destroyed day after day, quarter after quarter”.

Egypt announced it would host a meeting of regional powers “in the coming days” to discuss the Syrian crisis, which evolved from a peaceful uprising 18 months ago into a nationwide armed conflict after a brutal crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Cairo has invited officials from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to prepare for ministerial talks.

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s newly elected Islamist president, has publicly demanded Mr Assad’s departure. He called last week for the formation of a quartet group of regional powers to find ways to end the Syrian war.

Also in Cairo, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, announced he would go to the country in a few days to “meet officials and people from civil society and intellectuals in the capital and, God willing, outside the capital.”

Observers – and Mr Brahimi himself, who spoke of his “very difficult task” – have played down his chances of success. His predecessor Kofi Annan resigned last month after his peace plan fell apart amid divisions on the UN Security Council between anti-Assad western powers on one side and Russia and China on the other.

The Egyptian initiative faces similar potentially fatal disagreements: Iran is a steadfast ally of the Syrian president, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey see no solution as long as Mr Assad remains in office.

Additional reporting by Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut

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