Middle East

Regime airstrike on village kills seven people

Fighters from Fateh al-Sham unit of the Free Syrian Army fire rifles at army soldiers at a checkpoint in Harasta neighborhood of Damascus.

BEIRUT: Syrian government troops battled rebels in several areas outside Damascus Sunday while regime warplanes bombed opposition-held areas around the capital, including an airstrike on one village that killed at least seven people, activists said.

Rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have seized swaths of territory in northern Syria but have become bogged down in their push for Damascus, where government troops are still firmly in control. While the opposition fighters have established footholds in suburbs east and south of the capital, Assad’s forces have kept them from advancing into the heart of the city and regularly hit them with artillery and airstrikes.

Much of the fighting Sunday was focused in areas east and south of the city, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while government jets were bombing rebel areas.

An airstrike on the village of al-Barika, southeast of the capital, killed at least seven people, including five members of the same family, the Observatory said. Other activists provided the names of the dead, including the mother and father of the Shehadeh family and three of their children.

A video posted online said to be from the site showed dead bodies in the back of a pickup truck and body parts and blood scattered in the street. “A whole family,” an off-camera voice says, adding that they had fled to the village to escape violence elsewhere.

Another video posted online showed what activists said was the aftermath of an airstrike on the central village of Kfar Aya.

The video showed more than 10 wounded people being treated in a rudimentary field hospital. Some the wounded were children and appeared to be unconscious. A small baby was wrapped in a bloody white blanket with a badly wounded forehead.

The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other activist reports.

The state news agency said that troops had killed “scores of terrorists” in two rebellious southern suburbs of Damascus. The government considers the rebels and its other internal opponents “terrorists” backed by foreign powers that seek to destroy Syria.

The watchdog also reported a man killed by sniper fire amid artillery shelling and air raids on Daraya, strategically located next to Mezzeh military airport east of Damascus.

Pro-regime daily Al-Watan said “the terrorists on the outskirts of Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham have appealed for help after being hit very hard by the Syrian army, which destroyed several of the hideouts where they barricaded themselves.”

Also Sunday, the Observatory distributed two videos showing a rebel beating a captured government soldier with a rope.

The captive had been stripped to his underwear and was forced to raise his arms so he could be beaten on his sides, lifting his feet to receive blows on his soles.

At one point, a captor asked: “Who is your God?” To which the captive replies: “God.” The captor then says: “No. Your God is Bashar Assad.”

The Observatory’s head, Rami Abdulrahman, said the videos were from the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, though he did not know which of the area’s rebel brigades filmed them.

Syria’s government has been accused of war crimes throughout the conflict and at least 56 countries have co-signed a petition calling on the U.N. Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. The Council, however, remains split.

Accusations of war crimes by rebels have grown increasingly common, and Abdulrahman said he had more than 70 videos of rebels torturing people and more than 20 of them killing captives.

Abdulrahman, who supports the rebels, said he opposes such actions by either side. “We are dreaming of a new Syria and a new democratic country,” he said. “We don’t want a system where if someone kills me I can kill him.”

Also in Idlib, at least 10 rebels including a battalion commander were killed in combat at an army checkpoint near Wadi Deif base, one of the last garrisons in the regime’s hands in the northwest, said the Observatory.

Warplanes were strafing insurgent positions around Wadi Deif, while elsewhere in northern Syria, rebels launched assaults against troops outside the Menegh and Kweyris military airports, it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2013, on page 8.




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