DAMASCUS: A deadly car bomb tore through a mainly Druze suburb of Damascus Monday while Syrian warplanes pounded Aleppo province, killing dozens of people.
The violence came as the head of the Red Cross traveled to Damascus on a humanitarian mission and CIA chief David Petraeus visited Turkey for talks expected to focus on the Syrian crisis.
The car bomb blew up the suburb of Jaramana killing at least five people, said the Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog with a network of activists on the ground.
Another 27 people were wounded in the blast, it said, adding that the attack struck the area of Al-Wahda on the edges of Jaramana.
The southeastern suburb was previously hit by a car bomb on Aug. 28, when at least 27 people attending a funeral for two supporters of the Damascus regime were killed. “There is an increase of the use of car bombs in Syria,” the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Observatory said at least 138 people were killed across Syria Monday – 78 of them civilians – after 132 people died in violence the previous day. The LCC put the number killed Monday at 205, many of them in the governorate of Aleppo.
Among those killed in the latest bloodshed was an entire family in Aleppo – including seven children – when a government air raid hit their home in the center of the city, witnesses told an AFP correspondent in Syria’s second city.
The bodies of the children were laid out under fly-ridden blankets in the back of a yellow pickup truck outside a hospital before a hurried funeral, the correspondent reported.
“This is all one family,” said tailor Hassan Dalati, who survived the raid on Al-Sultan Street in the city of 2.7 million people.
A fighter jet also struck in nearby town of Al-Bab, killing at least 18 people, with more unaccounted for beneath the rubble of flattened homes, the Observatory said. The Local Coordination Committees, meanwhile, said 25 were killed.
The dawn raid on a building turned makeshift shelter followed repeated overflights by military aircraft during the night, residents said.
“We were sleeping at home when the first bomb struck. I made a run for the door when a second blast buried me,” said a barely conscious survivor, peppered with shrapnel from head to foot.
The army also pounded Aleppo, the Observatory said, more than five weeks after the start of what President Bashar Assad’s regime warned would be “the mother of all battles” for the commercial hub. A senior commander in charge of the regime offensive on Aleppo told AFP that the army would recapture the northern city from the rebel forces “within 10 days.”
Some 3,000 troops were involved in the fight against about 7,000 so-called terrorists, said the general, adding that 2,000 of the insurgents had been killed since the assault on Aleppo was launched at the start of August.
The Observatory reported more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt began in March last year – more than two-thirds of them civilians.
The plight of refugees is expected to be among the top priorities of Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross who traveled to Damascus for a three-day visit.
Maurer would “discuss pressing humanitarian issues” during meetings Tuesday with President Assad, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and other ministers, the ICRC said.
“At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of the utmost importance that we and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response,” Maurer said.
In Ankara, a U.S. official told AFP that CIA director Petraeus was in Turkey for regional meetings, without elaborating.
Petraeus’ visit comes less than two weeks after Turkish and U.S. officials held their first operational planning meetings aimed at bringing an end to the Assad regime.
This is the second visit to Turkey by the CIA chief, who held closed-door talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan in March.
Damascus said late Sunday that new U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would soon travel to Damascus, without providing a date, while expressing confidence “he will listen to us.”
But Brahimi gave a deeply pessimistic view of the task ahead of him, in an interview with the BBC. “I know how difficult it is – how nearly impossible. I can’t say impossible – [it is] nearly impossible,” he said.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoubi said Brahimi’s success depended on states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“The success of Lakhdar Brahimi does not depend on Syria,” Zohbi said.
“Brahimi’s success depends on certain states – such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – respecting his mission, by closing their borders to armed men, and by ceasing to provide weapons,” he added.
The minister did not confirm or deny whether Syrian authorities are holding foreign journalists who entered the country illegally, but said that any person who does so – whether a citizen of Syria or foreigner – will be referred to judicial authorities.
He reassured reporters, however, that if any journalists are held by authorities “they will receive special treatment even though they violated Syrian laws.” He asked journalists at the news conference to give his office any names they have of reporters that they know with certainty are held by authorities.
At least three journalists are missing in Syria and are believed to be held by the regime.
Al-Hurra TV correspondent Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, and his Turkish cameraman, Cuneyt Unal, are said to have been captured in the city of Aleppo after entering Syria last month.
The third journalist, American Austin Tice, has reported on the conflict for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other media outlets, is also reported missing in Syria.