Middle East

Syria extends air campaign on Aleppo region: activists

People walk along a street in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat

BEIRUT: Syrian warplanes pounded northern Aleppo for a fifth consecutive day Thursday, unleashing their firepower against several rebel-held villages in the province, activists said.

"After four days of helicopters dropping barrel bombs on Aleppo city, the regime changed the direction of its raids and struck the village of Tal Alam near Sfeira" southeast of Syria's second city, the Aleppo Media Centre said on Facebook.

Another activist network in the province, Shahba Press, reported air raids on Daret Ezza, Marea, Minbej and Anadan north of Aleppo city.

The villages targeted have been rebel-held for more than a year and have suffered frequent bombing.

But activists called Thursday's raids an extension of a deadly five-day aerial campaign against the provincial capital itself.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the activists' reports, adding that the Aleppo district of Sheikh Najjar was hit with makeshift barrel bombs which are packed with TNT and are highly destructive.

The Britain-based group also updated its toll from warplane and barrel bomb attacks on Aleppo city to 161 people killed between Sunday and Wednesday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had reported more than 189 killed by Wednesday evening from such attacks in the city alone.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said it would be difficult, "if not impossible", for the regime's military to advance on opposition areas of the country's former commercial hub.

"But I think it is trying to make the population turn against the rebels, so that the people themselves expel the fighters," he said.

One Syrian security source has denied that barrel bombs have been used against what the regime calls "terrorists," but another said the military prefers such weapons over missiles because they are cheaper.

Aleppo has been locked in a stalemate for more than a year, since a massive rebel advance on the provincial capital in July 2012.

Parts of the city have remained squarely under regime control ever since, while others have been in opposition hands.

Fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, including paramilitaries and officers from Lebanon's Hezbollah, also raged on the ground in Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

Syria's war is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people in 33 months, and forced millions more to flee their homes.





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