BEIRUT

Middle East

Clashes, strikes kill 23 children in one day

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter points his weapon during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr district December 30, 2012. (REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman)

BEIRUT: Regime forces Sunday pressed a fierce offensive in Homs after overrunning a key neighborhood of the central city, according to an opposition monitoring group, which also listed 23 children killed in violence across Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army, after Saturday seizing the Deir Baalbeh district in fighting which left dozens dead, fired off barrages of rockets into surrounding rebel-held neighborhoods Sunday as it sought to capitalize on its victory.

Troops also bombarded the nearby opposition stronghold of Rastan.

The Britain-based Observatory, which gathers its information from a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals, said the final death toll from Saturday’s clashes had not been finalized due to communications difficulties in the area.

A video released by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists, showed the bodies of nine male victims from Deir Baalbeh lying on the ground, their faces bloody and mutilated.

The authenticity of the video could not immediately be verified.

Near the capital Sunday, loyalist troops carried out air raids on towns along the eastern outlying belt and on Daraya in the southwest, while fighting between rebels and the army erupted in the northeastern and southwestern suburbs.

The Observatory said 13 children were among the victims of bombardments in and around Damascus Saturday, while 10 children were killed in air strikes across Aleppo province, including on rebel-held Aazaz near the Turkish border.

Analysts say the surge in airstrikes by Syrian forces are a desperate attempt by President Bashar Assad’s regime to reverse rampant gains by rebel fighters, especially in the north of the country.

Overnight, regime forces battled rebels in the opposition stronghold of Harasta northeast of Damascus and bombarded the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham to the southwest and Bait Saham near the airport road to the southeast, the Observatory said.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, also reported artillery fire Sunday on residential neighborhoods in Moadamiyet al-Sham coming from the direction of Mazzeh military airport.

Rebels, meanwhile, made further advances Sunday in the battle for the Hamidiyeh military post in the northwest province of Idlib which they stormed the previous day, the watchdog said.

During Sunday’s clashes, three insurgents were wounded by machinegun fire, while warplanes raided a nearby village, the watchdog said.

A takeover of the Hamidiyeh post would pave the way for a rebel offensive against the nearby Wadi Deif base, one of the government’s last outposts in the north.

Opposition fighters, mostly from the jihadist Nusra Front, have been closing in on the base since overrunning the nearby town of Maaret alNuman in early October.

Also Sunday, activists said rebels captured an oil pumping station in the province of Raqqa in the north of the country after days of fighting.

The Observatory said the station receives crude oil from the nearby province of Hassakha then pumps it to the central region of Homs, home to one of Syria’s two oil refineries.

Rebels have captured in the past months several oil fields in the eastern province of Deir el-Zor.

The Observatory said the rebels also captured a military post that used to protect the station.

Two rebels were also reported killed in clashes with troops in the central province of Hama, where a series of blasts also rocked the provincial capital.

In the southern province of Deraa, considered the cradle of the rebellion, troops and rebels clashed in the town of Sheikh Maskeen and battled for control of several small border crossings on the frontier with Jordan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 31, 2012, on page 8.
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