At least 28 dead in strike on Syria refugee camp: Activists
DAMASCUS - Associated PressAn airstrike hit a crowded refugee camp in Syria on May 6 close to the border with Turkey, killing at least 28 people, according to Syrian pro-opposition activists. Images posted on social media said to be of the aftermath of the strike showed at least a dozen tents burned to the ground and bloodied women and children being loaded onto a pickup truck.
The camp in Sarmada, in rebel-held territory the northwestern Idlib province, is home to between 1,500 and 2,000 internally displaced people who fled the fighting from the surrounding Aleppo and Hama provinces over the past year, according to activist Mohammad al-Shafie in the town of Atareb, about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the camp.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 28 died while the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said more than 30 were killed. Footage on social media showed charred bodies and men pouring buckets of water on fires that erupted within the camp.
The White House denounced the airstrike as "indefensible," with spokesman Josh Earnest saying there is "no justifiable excuse" for targeting innocent civilians who have already left their homes to flee violence.
Earnest also said it was too early to say whether Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces conducted the attack, but he added no U.S. or coalition aircraft were operating in the area at the time of the strike.
The airstrike came just hours after a twin bombing in the central province of Homs killed at least 10 people and wounded scores, state media and the regional governor, Talal Barrazi, said. A car bomb first exploded in the main square of village of Mukharam al-Fawkani, located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of the central city of Homs, Syria's third-largest.
As people gathered to help the victims, a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives belt nearby. Four children and three women were among those killed, Syrian state TV said, and as many as 49 were wounded in the attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has claimed to be behind several similar deadly attacks in Homs province. The area of the blasts is close to where Syrian troops and ISIL gunmen have been fighting for control of the vital Shaer gas field, which fell to the ISIL on May 4 after the extremists overran 13 government checkpoints and captured a Syrian soldier. The Observatory said 34 government troops and 16 militants have been killed in three days of fighting there.
Meanwhile, relative calm prevailed in the northern city of Aleppo, which has been the center of violence in recent weeks following a truce announced the day before by U.S. officials in agreement with Russia, in an effort to extend Syria's fragile cease-fire to the deeply contested city. The Syrian military said the truce would last only 48 hours.
Assad said in a letter to the Russian president that Aleppo will eventually be victorious, comparing the Syrian government forces' resistance in the city to the protracted World War II battle of Stalingrad.
Syrian state media reported some violations of the Aleppo truce, saying militants fired more than 20 shells into government-held parts of the city, where 280 civilians have been killed over the past two weeks, according to the Observatory. The activist group said the shelling on May 5 killed one person.
In his letter to Vladimir Putin, which was carried on Syrian state media, Assad vowed that Aleppo and other Syrian cities and towns will defeat "the aggression" the way the Soviet Red Army defeated Nazi forces in Stalingrad.
"Aleppo today, as well as all Syrian cities embrace the heroic Stalingrad and pledge that despite the viciousness of the aggression ... our cities, villages, people and army will not accept anything less than defeating the aggression," Assad said.
It was unclear why Assad was making the comparison, but the rhetoric could be playing to Russian patriotic sentiment ahead of Victory Day next week - May 9 marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
Also on May 4, renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev led the Mariinsky orchestra from St. Petersburg in a concert at the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, badly damaged by ISIL extremists who held the town for 10 months before Syrian troops captured it under the cover of Russian airstrikes in March.
The concert, dubbed "With a Prayer for Palmyra," was to support the restoration of the UNESCO heritage site and in honor of the victims of Syria's war. It was held in the town's amphitheater and the audience included Russian servicemen as well as Russian sappers who have been doing demining in the town to remove bombs left by ISIL militants, who badly damaged the world famous archaeological site at Palmyra.
In opening remarks, Gergiev said that with the concert, "we protest against the barbarians who destroyed monuments of world culture."
There was also a video linkup in which Putin addressed the audience, saying he regards the concert "as a sign of gratitude, remembrance and hope."
Elsewhere, a Lebanese TV station embedded with the Syrian army says Syrian rebels are waging an offensive on a government-held village south of the city of Aleppo. Al Mayadeen TV, broadcasting live from near the fighting, says armed groups launched their assault for Khan Touman earlier in the afternoon on May 4.
The TV says government jets are bombing rebel positions outside the village. Bomb blasts are seen in the station's feed from the hilly countryside.