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Air raids kill 76 in Aleppo, Islamic Front denies U.S. talks
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BEIRUT: Syrian government aircraft dropped barrels packed with explosives on opposition-held areas of Aleppo Sunday, leveling buildings, incinerating cars and killing at least 76 people including 28 children, activists said.

The devastation came as a major Islamist rebel alliance denied reports it had met with American officials as part of Washington’s announced intention to seek out opposition fighters not associated with Al-Qaeda in the run-up to next month’s Geneva II peace conference.

Nearly a year and a half of fighting has destroyed much of Aleppo, while also cutting it up into rebel-held and government-controlled areas.

Government helicopters Sunday pounded the opposition neighborhoods of Haidarieh, Ard al-Hamra, Sakhour, Marjeh and at least two others with barrel bombs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said Monday the death toll for the attacks was 76, including 28 children, updating an earlier figure of 37.

The Aleppo Media Center activist group said government aircraft dropped at least 25 barrel bombs on the city.

An AMC activist in the city, Mohammad al-Khatib, said in a message posted on Facebook that the raids were “unprecedented.”

“Everyone is looking up at the skies and watching the planes. But there’s nothing to be done,” he said.

One video provided by the AMC showed the aftermath of a strike in Haidarieh. In the video, residents investigate the wreckage of at least three vehicles destroyed in the bombing.

Another video posted online showed the aftermath of a strike on Sakhour. The footage shows a crowd gathered in a street littered with rubble from a house that appeared to have been hit by the airstrike.

The bombings came a day after the Syrian Red Crescent delivered aid to Aleppo central prison, which has been under rebel siege for eight months.

Earlier last week, the government announced an amnesty on humanitarian grounds for scores of prisoners held on criminal charges.

Fifteen prisoners have already been freed, escorted out of jail by volunteers, according to the Observatory, while 341 others are waiting to be released.

Throughout the country, 119 people were killed, with 79 in Aleppo province, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of opposition activists.

The Observatory, which put Sunday’s death toll at 114, also said the number killed in the town of Adra northeast of Damascus had risen to 32 after an Al-Qaeda-linked group attacked Wednesday.

Observatory head Rami Abel-Rahman said the dead in Adra were primarily members the Alawite sect, as well as a few Druze and Shiite Muslims.

However, pro-opposition activists have disputed both the regime and the Observatory’s version of events, with some saying that a number of the dead were either soldiers or paramilitaries. They have named four officers as casualties, one of whom they claimed blew himself up while barricaded in a room trying to escape the rebels.

Meanwhile, two members of the Islamic Front coalition of non-Al-Qaeda-affiliated militias denied reports they had met with American officials in Turkey.

Islam Alloush, a spokesman for the front, and the head of one of its components, Hassan Abboud of Ahrar al-Sham, denied they met U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford after American officials said they were reaching out to Islamist rebels who weren’t connected to the ultra-conservative jihadists. Other opposition sources speculated a meeting might still occur in coming days.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2013, on page 1.
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