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MIDEAST > Blasts near presidential palace in Syrian capital: SANA

BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse

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This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows people searching through the debris of destroyed buildings in the aftermath of a strike by Syrian government forces in Aleppo's Jabal Bedro neighborhood on Feb 19. AP Photo

This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows people searching through the debris of destroyed buildings in the aftermath of a strike by Syrian government forces in Aleppo's Jabal Bedro neighborhood on Feb 19. AP Photo

Two mortar shells fired by "terrorists" exploded near Tishreen presidential palace in the Syrian capital today, causing some damage but no casualties, state media said.
 
The mortars "landed near the southern wall of Tishreen palace, only causing material damage", state news agency SANA quoted an unnamed official as saying. The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack.
 
According to SANA, the shells slammed into an area around the Al-Mouwassat and Children's hospital in west Damascus, "leaving no casualties".
 
The hospitals are several hundred meters from Tishreen which is reserved for visiting dignitaries but is not an actual residence of President Bashar al-Assad.
 
This is the first time that the Syrian authorities have reported shells falling near a presidential palace.
 
The military council of the rebel Free Syrian Army meanwhile announced on Facebook that "the Free Army has fired mortars at the Tishreen presidential palace, resulting in a definite hit."
 
Tishreen is one of three such palaces in the capital. The others are the Peoples' Palace atop Mount Qassioun in the north and Rawda palace in the center, which holds executive offices.

Syria children among 31 killed in Aleppo missile strike: NGO

Fourteen children and five women were among at least 31 people killed in an apparent surface-to-surface missile strike on a residential area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

"It is likely that a surface-to-surface missile strike" hit Jabal Badro on the edge of Aleppo late on Feb. 18, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Fourteen children aged under 16 years and five women were among the dead, and the "toll is likely to rise as bodies are being retrieved from under the rubble," the Britain-based observatory said, adding that people were critically injured.

There were no planes overhead when the missile hit, according to residents cited by the observatory, and the extent of the destruction indicated a surface-to-surface missile was likely used, director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.

Abu Hisham, an Aleppo-based citizen journalist who spoke to AFP via the Internet, said "housing in the district was informally built. It took one surface-to-surface rocket to destroy an entire neighbourhood." Video footage and photographs shot by activists in Aleppo, scene of fierce fighting since the army launched an all-out assault to stop a rebel advance on Syria's second city on July 20, 2012, showed massive destruction in Jabal Badro.

Amateur video posted online by the anti-regime Aleppo Media Center showed crowds of people gathering around hills of rubble and a bulldozer shovelling the debris as residents searched for relatives.

"I swear to God! I rescued a baby aged just two months from the rubble!" cried an unidentified man interviewed by an amateur cameraman. AFP could not authenticate the video.

Activists have reported the army's use of surface-to-surface missiles on various targets in northern Syria since late 2012.

A security source in Damascus told AFP late last year that such missiles were a Syrian-made version of the Scud, and NATO has since reported ballistic missiles being used in Syria.

February/19/2013

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