BEIRUT: Government airstrikes and helicopters dropping crude “barrel bombs” returned with a vengeance Wednesday in Aleppo and elsewhere throughout Syria, killing 13 people in the northern city, activists and a monitoring group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said barrel bombs were dropped on the Sheikh Najjar and Sheikh Zayyat neighborhoods of Aleppo, while a warplane targeted the neighborhood of Ashrafieh, killing 13 people and wounding a large, unspecified number of others, activists said.
A woman and a young girl were among the dead when government helicopters dropped the controversial munitions on the Maadi district of south Aleppo, the Observatory said.
Government forces have launched an offensive to the southeast of Aleppo, aimed at securing the international highway and expanding their area of control around Nairab air base, security sources said.
The offensive has already won them their first gains in the area in more than a year, with the capture of the Karm al-Qasr district on the city’s southeastern fringes, the Observatory said Tuesday.
It said that regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs near the Abu Dhuhur airport in Idlib, and near the village of Taibet al-Imam in Hama, as well as the Damascus suburb of Daraya. An unspecified number of people were wounded in the strikes, but no fatalities were reported.
Four people were killed by a helicopter strike in the village of Aisheh in Hama, the Observatory added.
The violence came as fighting continued between militants from the Al-Qaeda-inspired ISIS and various rebel groups. The Observatory said at least 1,565 people had been killed in the clashes, including 206 civilians, 878 rebels and Islamist fighters, and 459 ISIS forces.
Nineteen others killed in the fighting had not yet been identified, the group said, adding the total number of deaths among fighters from both sides could be much higher because of attempts to conceal the true figures.
The Turkish armed forces attacked a convoy of Al-Qaeda-linked rebel vehicles in Syria in retaliation for cross-border fire Tuesday, destroying three vehicles, Turkish media said.
Turkish troops opened fire on ISIS positions in northern Syria after a mortar shell fired from Syria landed in Turkish territory during clashes between ISIS and other rebel groups.
It said a pick-up truck, a lorry and a bus were destroyed in the Turkish retaliation Tuesday evening. There were no reports of casualties.
The Observatory said that ISIS meanwhile seized two small villages in Aleppo and killed at least six rebels in fighting for the village of Rai, near the city of Al-Bab. The rebels and the jihadists also squared off in the town of Hreitan in Aleppo, where, according to the Observatory, regime helicopters targeted the area with barrel bombs.
Elsewhere, 26 soldiers and rebel fighters were killed late Tuesday in fighting in the village of Zara, in Homs province, the group said.
The village is located near the famous Crusader castle the Crac des Chevaliers, between the central city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast.
Rocket, artillery and tank fire Tuesday battered the town of Zara, a resident said, asking not to be identified. Warplanes later bombed the area between Zara and Al-Hosn, targeting rebels there, he said.
A fighter from the National Defense Forces, an Assad loyalist paramilitary group, said the offensive aimed to secure a gas pipeline which runs through Zara and which was attacked by rebels in December to disrupt supplies.
But others in the area linked the fighting to a dispute between villages in Homs. Zara and Al-Hosn are mostly Sunni, but the surrounding villages form part of Syria’s 10 percent Christian minority.
This month, masked gunmen from Al-Hosn decapitated a young man from the nearby Christian village of Marmarita, residents said. A few days later, pro-regime militiamen from Marmarita killed a man from Al-Hosn and dragged his body behind a car through Christian hamlets.