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Syria: Airstrikes leave dozens dead

The Syrian war continues as airstrikes target opposition-held cities in the northern part of the country. Restrictions against journalists make it difficult to confirm the death tolls, but activists say more than 40 people have been killed.   

By Ben HubbardAssociated Press / October 18, 2012

In this citizen journalism image provided by Lens Young Homsi, which has been authenticated, a general view of destroyed houses which was damaged by Syrian government forces shelling, at Baba Amr neighborhood, in Homs province, Syria.

AP Photo/Lens Yong Homsi

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BEIRUT

Syrian warplanes hammered a strategic city captured by rebels, leaving behind scenes of carnage captured Thursday on amateur videos.

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Activists said airstrikes over the past two days on opposition targets across Syria's north have killed at least 43 people.

The city of Maaret al-Numan, located strategically on a major north-south highway connecting Aleppo and Damascus, was captured by rebels last week and there has been heavy fighting around it ever since. Rebel brigades from the surrounding area have poured in to defend the town. Online videos have shown them firing mortars at regime troops, and they claimed to have shot down a government helicopter on Wednesday.

Since it was captured a week ago, the city in northern Idlib province and its surroundings have been the focus of one of the heaviest air bombardments since President Bashar Assad's military first unleashed its air force against rebels over the summer.

Local activists in the city say warplanes are continuously overhead, and entire villages are largely deserted and peppered with destroyed homes.

The scenes from the city provide a window into the carnage being wrought by the Syrian military's increasing reliance on airstrikes to fight rebels waging a civil war to topple Assad. Rights groups say the airstrikes often hit civilian areas. And this week, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused Syria of using cluster bombs, which pose grave dangers to civilians.

The regime contends that it is fighting terrorists backed by foreign powers who seek to destroy Syria and denies using cluster bombs.

The latest onslaught from the skies left residents frantically poring through mounds of rubble searching for survivors or bodies trapped underneath.

Amateur videos purportedly filmed after an airstrike there on Thursday showed the men carrying around body parts and 18 white cloth bundles holding the remains of those killed. Activist claims and videos cannot be independently verified due to restrictions on reporting in Syria. But all videos corresponded to activists' reports and appeared to have been filmed where they said they were.

One strike hit a neighborhood near the rebel field hospital in Maaret al-Numan, activist Fadi Yassin said via Skype.

Airstrikes also hit three nearby villages on Wednesday, killing 15 people, Yassin said. Nine of those were in Kafar Nubul, while others died in the villages of Kafrouma and Hass.

Airstrikes late Wednesday and early Thursday hit at least five towns in northern Idlib and Aleppo provinces, both of which border Turkey.

The aftermath of one of the strikes was captured on video late Wednesday in the city of Aleppo. It struck a large mosque. While some men in the videos carry away bodies, others work to dig out a survivor whose legs are buried in debris.

An Aleppo-based activist who gave his name as Abu Raed said men were arriving for Wednesday evening prayers when a fighter jet dropped a bomb on the Light of the Martyrs Mosque in the Shaar neighborhood. The blast destroyed a room used for ritual washing and part of the prayer hall itself, he said via Skype.

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