Thu, Dec 19, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Death toll mounts in Syria as rebel-held areas struck

AFP, DAMASCUS

A damaged car stands at a site which activists said was hit in an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo, Syria, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Syrian aircraft pounded rebel-held areas of Aleppo for a third day on Tuesday, with hospitals reportedly overwhelmed as more than 100 people have been killed in the bombing.

As the violence raged, Britain accused the Syrian regime of effectively murdering a British surgeon it had jailed after seizing him in Aleppo, where he had volunteered to work at a hospital.

Two children were among at least 20 people killed in Aleppo on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that relies on activists and other witnesses in Syria.

Air strikes on rebel-held areas on Sunday and Monday killed 86 people, including 32 children, the observatory said.

Aleppo, Syria’s second city and onetime commercial hub, emerged as a key front after a rebel offensive last year. The northern city is today split between regime and rebel-controlled enclaves.

An estimated 126,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which erupted after a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests first held in March 2011.

International humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) corroborated reports that regime helicopters started dropping barrel bombs on Aleppo on Sunday.

In just two cases — the targeting of a school and a roundabout where people wait for public transport — “there were dozens of dead and injured people,” MSF Syria coordinator Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa said. “A dozen bodies were being lined up in front of three hospitals waiting to be recovered by the families. The hospitals in the area are overrun and are asking for medical supplies. We sent them immediately.”

Earlier, the observatory and activists said the air force had been dropping barrels of explosives from both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said there was a “marked escalation” in attacks and that “this type of intensive bombing over several days demonstrates the desire of the army to advance” on rebel-held areas.

The opposition National Coalition said the “systematic raids on Aleppo demonstrate the regime’s rejection of a political solution” to the war.

It also accused the international community of “indifference” and of being “seemingly incapable of taking a firm position to guarantee a stop to the bloodshed.”

The violence in Syria appeared to spill over into neighboring Lebanon again on Tuesday, when a car exploded and caused an unknown number of casualties in the east of the country.

In a separate incident, several rockets rained down on the eastern Lebanese town of Hermel, a Hezbollah bastion, with one hitting an army barracks and wounding two soldiers, the Lebanese military said.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite movement, has been the target of repeated attacks by suspected Sunni hardliners since its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, confirmed in April that its fighters were supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Meanwhile in London, Britain accused Syria of effectively murdering Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopedic surgeon from south London who had traveled to Aleppo last year to help civilians, but was captured by the regime.

His family said the father of two had died in detention, just days before he was due to be freed and handed over to a British lawmaker.

Syrian officials reportedly said Khan had committed suicide, but British Junior Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said the regime was responsible.

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