BEIRUT: Government shelling and airstrikes with makeshift “barrel bombs” have killed approximately 400 people in the city of Aleppo so far this month, activists said Thursday, as regime troops kept up their offensive against the town of Yabroud near the border with Lebanon.
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said at least 51 people were killed Wednesday, mainly by barrel bombs, shrapnel-packed explosive devices dropped on eight rebel-held districts from helicopters. The Observatory said that raised the total killed in the city to some 400 since the beginning of this month.
There is no way to independently verify the figure, although the accounts of Syria-based activists have given similar casualty figures.
The Observatory, which has come under criticism in recent weeks by both sides in the conflict for its reporting of certain developments, used the term “explosive barrels of [Deputy Foreign Minister] Faisal Mekdad, which protect civilians,” in announcing the casualty figure.
The bombings in Aleppo are part of a campaign by President Bashar Assad’s forces to wrest control of districts that were seized by rebels in the northern city since mid-2012.
A pro-opposition media outlet in Aleppo said that 42 of the crude devices were dropped on the city of Aleppo and rural areas Thursday, killing 10 people in the city’s Masaken Hanano neighborhood. The outlet said that two of the bombs failed to explode, the activists said, while the rebels managed to detonate one of the devices before it exploded, without giving further details.
Casualties were also reported in various parts of the city due to regime airstrikes and shelling.
The Observatory said that regime troops and rebels clashed around the Kweiris military airport outside Aleppo, with unconfirmed reports maintaining that a suicide bomber from the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, had spearheaded the rebels’ latest drive to take the facility.
Regime warplanes carried out six airstrikes on parts of the city of Yabroud, wounding an unspecified number of people, and also targeted several nearby areas, the Observatory said.
Yabroud and other parts of the Qalamoun mountainous region have seen a stepped-up offensive by the regime, backed by Hezbollah fighters, in recent days, causing an exodus of refugees.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television said that most of the areas surrounding Yabroud were now in range of Syrian troops and their allies, one day after the village of Jraijir was seized by government troops.
In Homs province, also near the border with Lebanon, six people – a civilian, a rebel, and four army defectors – were reported killed in an airstrike by regime aircraft on the village of Zara, near Tal Kalakh.
Rebel groups have announced several new offensives in recent days in various parts of the country, such as the province of Idlib, where five rebels from Islamist militias and the Nusra Front were killed in fighting with regime troops on the outskirts of the province’s capital city, according to the Observatory.
Regime troops and paramilitaries squared off against the Nusra Front and Islamist militias on the outskirts of the city of Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria. The Observatory said at least eight rebels and an unspecified number of regime troops were killed in the fighting, which also claimed the lives of seven civilians and sent residents fleeing the area.
In the northern part of Hama province, the commander of a local Islamist militia was killed and five rebels were wounded in an ambush by government troops, the Observatory said.
Activists said regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the villages of Nuaymeh and Inkhil in Deraa, but no fatalities were reported. A barrel bomb strike on the Damascus suburb of Daraya was also reported, but with no casualties, the Observatory said.
Elsewhere, rebels continued to battle militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and the Observatory said it confirmed the death of ISIS’ commander for the city of Raqqa, from wounds sustained in recent clashes with rebel groups. It said that ISIS militants had also confiscated a number of homes in the city and housed its non-Syrian fighters in them. Three rebels, meanwhile, were killed in clashes with ISIS militants in a remote part of the province, the Observatory said.
In Deir al-Zor, ISIS fighters took full control of a salt mine in the village of Tabanni, west of the city, after defeating Islamist militias, the Observatory said.
The Observatory said the bodies of five adult males and a minor who were summarily executed were found near the village of Reitan in Aleppo province, which has been declared a “military zone” by ISIS. The Observatory said it was unclear as to who was responsible for the incident, and added that regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs in the area, although there were no reports of casualties.
The Observatory said that 312 people were killed nationwide in Wednesday’s violence, 212 of whom were fighters with the regime, various rebel groups, and jihadists.