* No word from Syrian rebels
* Fighting rages in north ahead of Muslim Eid holiday
* Syrian warplanes pound northern town, rebels ring army
By Oliver Holmes and Shaimaa Fayed
BEIRUT/CAIRO, Oct 24 International mediator
Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday the Syrian government had
agreed to a ceasefire in the war with rebels during the Muslim
holiday of Eid al-Adha.
It was also not clear whether the insurgents would commit to
a truce. Rebel sources had earlier told Reuters there was
little point if it could not be monitored or enforced. Brahimi's
initiative did not include plans for international observers to
monitor a halt to hostilities.
As Brahimi spoke in Cairo, Syrian warplanes were carrying
out bombing raids on the strategic northern town of Maarat
al-Numan and nearby villages while insurgents surrounded an army
base to its east, an activist monitor said.
Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy, had
crisscrossed the Middle East to push the different sides and
their international backers to agree to a truce in the
19-month-old conflict - an effort that included talks with
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus at the weekend.
"After the visit I made to Damascus, there is agreement from
the Syrian government for a ceasefire during the Eid," Brahimi
told a news conference at the Cairo-based Arab League.
The holiday starts on Thursday and lasts three or four days.
Brahimi did not specify the precise time period for a truce.
A previous ceasefire arrangement in April collapsed within
days with both sides accusing the other of breaking it.
Whether a ceasefire would be embraced shortly by either side
was in question given a battle with huge strategic ramifications
being waged in the northwest, with government warplanes striking
Maarat al-Numan and nearby villages.
Five people from one family, including a child and a woman,
were killed in the air strikes on Wednesday, according to Rami
Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for
Maarat al-Numan has fallen to Assad's opponents, effectively
cutting the main north-south highway, a strategic route for
Assad to move troops from the capital Damascus to Aleppo,
Syria's largest city where rebels have taken a foothold.
But without control of the nearby Wadi al-Daif military
base, their grip over the road is tenuous. Its capture would be
a significant step towards creating a "safe zone" allowing them
to focus forces on Assad's strongholds in southern Syria.
The rebels say the ferocity of counter-attacks by government
forces shows how important holding the base is to the
president's military strategy.
Opposition activist footage on Wednesday showed a column of
grey smoke rising after a bomb hit the village of Deir
al-Sharqi, a few kilometres (miles) south of the base.
REFUGEES FLEE BOMBARDMENTS
Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian refugees have poured into a
makeshift refugee camp at Atimah overlooking the Turkish border,
fleeing a week of what they said were the most intense army
bombardments since the uprising began.
"Some of the bombs were so big they sucked in the air and
everything crashes down, even four-storey buildings. We used to
have one or two rockets a day, now for the past 10 days it has
become constant, we run from one shelter to another. They drop a
few bombs and it's like a massacre," one refugee, a 20-year-old
named Nabil, told Reuters at the camp.
The army has lost swathes of territory in recent months and
relies on air power and heavy artillery to push back the rebels
fighting to topple Assad. Over 32,000 people have been killed in
the conflict, which began with peaceful pro-democracy protests
before descending into civil war as repression increased.
Human Rights Watch said the Syrian air force had increased
its use of cluster bombs across the country in the past two
weeks. The New York-based organisation identified, through
activist video footage of unexploded bomblets, three types of
cluster bombs which had fallen on and around Maarat al-Numan.
Cluster bombs explode in the air, scattering dozens of
smaller bomblets over an area the size of a sports field. Most
nations have banned their use under a convention that became
international law in 2010, but which Syria has not signed.
Russia said on Wednesday the rebels had acquired portable
surface-to-air missiles including U.S.-made Stingers - a weapon
that would help bring down warplanes and helicopters which have
bombed residential areas where rebels are hiding.
Opposition activist footage has shown rebels carrying
Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles, but footage of Stingers has
yet to appear.
In contrast to the Libya crisis last year, the West has
shown little appetite to arm the Syrian rebels, worried that
weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.
Russia, which has supported Assad through the conflict, sold
his government $1 billion worth of weapons last year and has
made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the U.N. Security
A total of 190 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday,
the Observatory said.