BEIRUT: Syrian government shelling killed at least 16 people Friday in a rebel-held area of the city of Aleppo, activists and a monitoring group said, while crude “barrel bombs” dropped by helicopter struck targets throughout the country.
The attacks came as negotiators were wrapping up a week of peace talks in Geneva – the first round of what is expected to be prolonged negotiations on trying to find a solution to the devastating civil war.
The airstrikes targeted the Aleppo neighborhood of Qadi Askar and it required hours to verify the number of victims, according to Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The shelling and air attacks on Aleppo have taken place as Syrian troops on the ground inch closer to rebel-held parts of the city.
The Aleppo Media Center, another activist group, also provided a similar report, while a third activist group said that a total of 26 rockets and barrel bombs had struck parts of the city by mid-afternoon.
The Observatory said barrel bombs were dropped on the neighborhoods of Zabdieh and Shaar in Aleppo, killing five people. They also struck areas in Sheikh Najjar and the industrial zone, without causing casualties.
In Idlib, the village of Binnish and the Abu Dhuhur airport were targeted, along with the village of Kfar Zeita in Hama, and the Jabal Akrad region of Latakia province. The crude devices also struck the Damascus suburb of Daraya for a third straight day.
“During Geneva II, explosive barrel bombs have rained down on us,” activist Abu Kinan told AFP Friday from Daraya.
“Today there were at least 12 and yesterday [Thursday] 20.”
Echoing many regime opponents, Abu Kinan said the talks “have achieved nothing. They haven’t opened a single humanitarian corridor, they haven’t stopped the bloodshed, or the bombing.”
“Do you think that the regime is negotiating? Not at all. Daraya is being brought down on the heads of its residents to force them to surrender or accept a truce.”
Elsewhere, fierce fighting was reported pitting regime troops and paramilitaries against rebel groups, although precise casualty figures were unavailable. Thursday’s nationwide death toll stood at 222 people, of whom 157 were regime troops, fighters from various rebel groups, and Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants.
The Observatory said that regime-versus-rebel clashes were heavy in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the rural Damascus town of Zabadani, areas of rural Hama, the province of Deir al-Zor. Friday’s preliminary reports from the eastern Ghouta area around the capital indicated that 25 regime troops were killed and four rebels were wounded in the fierce fighting. The Observatory said that rebels were advancing on an Alawite village of Bahlawanieh near the town of Tal Kalakh, on the Lebanese border .
The Observatory said that rebels destroyed several regime vehicles in a successful assault on a checkpoint in the province of Qunaitra, which has seen steady fighting this week.
A mortar bomb also struck near the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, wounding at least five people. Works began this week on the historic structure to repair a famous mosaic damaged in a recent mortar bomb strike.
Casualties were also reported on both sides of fighting in the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey, pitting Kurdish militias against militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front and several Islamist militias.
Throughout the month of January, ISIS fighters have battled these same Islamist militias in half a dozen provinces after they launched a campaign against the hard-line Al-Qaeda group.
While ISIS has cemented its control over the city of Raqqa on the Euphrates, the Observatory reported that one of the group’s checkpoints was targeted by unknown gunmen in a late Thursday incident that did not lead to reports of casualties.