BEIRUT: The Syrian government bombed areas around Damascus Monday as part of its push to keep rebel fighters out of the capital, leaving many children among the dozens killed, anti-regime activists said.
One strike hit the suburb of Moadamieh, blasting the walls off apartment blocks and scattering rubble in the streets. Activist videos posted online showed residents searching for survivors and wrapping dead bodies in blankets. One video showed two corpses lying face down, one covered in gray cement dust. Another showed the bodies of six children laid out on a floor. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting.
The Britain-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 people were killed in the Moadamieh blast: eight children and five women. The group also reported deadly airstrikes in two other suburbs, saying at least 45 people were killed in and around the capital Monday, including 10 rebel fighters.
Anti-regime activist network the Syrian Revolution General Commission said that 108 people had been killed around the country, mostly in Damascus and surrounding areas.
The Syrian government offered its own account of the blast in Moadamieh, saying “terrorists” fired a shell at the neighborhood, hitting a residential building and causing an undefined number of casualties.
The destruction in the videos, however, appeared consistent with an airstrike, not a shell attack.
Rebel fighters said the strike came amid a government offensive to push rebel fighters from there and the adjacent suburb of Daraya.
Rebels moved into the two suburbs weeks ago, but have been bogged down in clashes with government troops since then. Both areas put rebel forces within striking distance of a key military airport in the Mezzeh neighborhood.
The Observatory said that the government had blown up homes between the airport and the neighborhoods to establish a buffer zone.
One fighter in the area said the government appeared set on pushing the rebels out.
“The noise from the bombardment is astounding today,” said the fighter, who gave only his first name, Iyad, for security reasons. “The regime is using all kinds of weaponry.”
The U.N. says that more than 60,000 people have been killed since Syria’s crisis began with anti-regime protests.
International diplomacy has failed to end the conflict, and NATO’s secretary-general said the alliance had no plans to intervene in Syria, warning that foreign intervention could have “unpredictable regional repercussions.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a defense conference in Sweden that Syria was more politically, religiously and ethnically complex than Libya, where NATO airstrikes in 2011 helped rebels overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.
Still, NATO is deploying Patriot missiles along Turkey’s southern border with Syria to help the alliance member guard against spillover from the war. The Patriot missile system should be operational by early February, perhaps sooner, a NATO spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said transport of troops and material got under way in early January and would continue over the next few weeks.
The statements came after a shell fired from Syria landed in southeastern Turkey without injuring anyone, according to Turkish television.
The shell dug a deep crater in an olive grove near Akcabaglar in Kilis province, damaging some trees, according to NTV and CNN-Turk.
It was not clear whether it was fired by government troops or rebels.
In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said government troops fired a short-range ballistic missile Sunday, bringing to more than 20 the number launched in the past month.
“We’ve detected the launch of several unguided short-range ballistic missiles this month, including one Sunday.”
“Altogether over the last 30 days we’ve seen that over 20 short-range ballistic missiles have been fired by the regime forces,” Lungescu said.
Also, Human Rights Watch accused the regime of firing rockets containing cluster bombs, marking an expansion in its use of the banned munitions despite international condemnation.
The New York-based HRW has previously reported Syrian forces using air-dropped cluster bombs but in its latest statement said this had been expanded to the use of ground-based methods to spread the weapons.
For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated his criticism of Western calls that President Bashar Assad step down.
During a visit to Ukraine, Lavrov suggested that Assad’s opponents propose their own solution to the conflict.
Iyad, the fighter near Damascus, said the opposition’s key demand hasn’t changed.
“We have said a million times we will accept nothing less than Assad’s resignation,” he said.