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UN: War crimes on both sides in Syria

The UN Human Rights Council said Wednesday war crimes have been committed by both the Assad regime, and the rebels in Syria. Meanwhile, government war planes bombed a rebel-held town, killing more than 20.

By Ben HubbardAssociated Press / August 15, 2012

Injured Syrians arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Azaz, Syria

Syrian fighter jets screamed through the sky Wednesday over this rebel-held town, dropping bombs that leveled the better part of a poor neighborhood and wounded scores of people, many of them women and children buried under piles of rubble. Activists said more than 20 people were killed.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people died in the double airstrike and more than 200 were wounded. Mohammed Nour, a local activist reached by phone, put the death toll at 25. Neither figure could be independently confirmed.

Reporters from The Associated Press saw nine dead bodies in the bombings' immediate aftermath, including a baby.

The bombings sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover. So many were wounded that the local hospital locked its doors, directing residents to drive to the nearby Turkish border so the injured could be treated on the other side. One person's remains were bundled into a small satchel.

A group of young men found a man buried in the wreckage of destroyed homes, his clothes torn and his limbs dirty, but still alive.

"God is great! God is great!" they chanted as they yanked him out and laid him on a blanket.

Nearby, a woman sat on a pile of bricks that once was her home, cradling a dead baby wrapped in a dirty cloth. Two other bodies lay next to her, covered in blankets. She screamed and threw stones at a TV crew that tried to film her.

The bombing of Azaz, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Aleppo, shattered the sense of control rebels have sought to project since they took the area from President Bashar Assad's army last month. Azaz is also the town where rebels have been holding 11 Lebanese Shiites they captured in May.

The attack came on the same day the U.N. released a report accusing Assad's forces and pro-government militiamen of war crimes during a May bloodbath in the village of Houla that killed more than 100 civilians, nearly half of them children. It said rebels were also responsible for war crimes in at least three other killings.

The long-awaited report by the U.N. Human Rights Council marks the first time the world body has referred to events in Syria as war crimes — on both the government and rebel sides — and could be used in future prosecutions against Assad or others.

It said the scale of the Houla carnage indicated "involvement at the highest levels" of Syria's military and government. The council also said the conflict is moving in increasingly brutal directions on both sides.

Also on Wednesday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, comprised of 57 member states, released a final statement from its two day summit in Saudi Arabia's Muslim holy city of Mecca urging support of the opposition. The statement did not mention suspending Syria's membership, but OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters after the summit that the organization had agreed to do so. The move is largely symbolic.

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