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MIDEAST > 20 dead including 8 children in Syria shelling: NGO

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At least 20 people including eight children were killed as Syrian army tanks blasted a village in the northern province of Kahtaniyeh on Wednesday, a monitoring group said, AFP has reported.

"At least 20 people, among them eight children and three women, were killed in shelling by regime forces of farmlands in Kahtaniyeh village, west of the city of Raqa," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Amateur video posted online by activists and distributed by the Observatory showed several bloodied bodies, including at least one of a child, laid out on blankets in a house.

"Dozens of people have been injured in farmlands of Kahtaniyeh, among them a whole family," according to activists in Raqa.

Raqa has seen an escalation of violence in recent months as rebels have launched an assault to seize several areas of the province, strategically located on the Turkish border.

The Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman said the casualties were caused by tank fire and that the victims were from farming families.

"Just to be clear, there are no Al-Nusra Front jihadists or any other well-organised rebel groups there. The victims were just farmers," Abdel Rahman told AFP.


Report: Top Syrian general joins opposition

A pan-Arab TV station says the general who heads Syria’s military police has defected and joined the uprising against President Bashar Assad, The Associated Press has reported earlier today.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal has appeared in a video aired on Al Arabiya TV saying he is joining "the people’s revolution."

In the video aired late Tuesday, al-Shallal said the army deviated from its mission of protecting the nation and became "a gang for killing and destruction."

Dozens of generals have defected since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011 but al-Shallal is one of the most senior and held a top post at the time that he left.

In July, Manaf Tlass, a Syrian general, was the first member of Assad’s inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition.

December/26/2012

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