Syria barrel bomb raids 'kill 85' after Geneva talks
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
Smoke rises while Free Syrian Army fighters stand at the Karm al-Tarab neighborhood frontline in Aleppo February 1, 2014. REUTERS photoAt least 85 people were killed in 24 hours of Syrian regime air raids on the city of Aleppo, a monitoring group said Sunday, after 10 days of inconclusive peace talks.
The deaths came as a suicide car bombing in a Hezbollah stronghold across the border in Lebanon killed four people on Saturday, in the latest regional spillover of the conflict.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime helicopters hit rebel-held areas of Aleppo with barrels packed with explosives.
The so-called barrel bombs are a controversial weapon, condemned by rights groups as indiscriminate.
"At least 85 people were killed, including 65 civilians, 10 of whom were children," on Saturday, the Observatory said.
The group said 34 people were killed in one neighbourhood alone, and 10 of the dead were jihadists from Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.
Once Syria's economic hub, Aleppo is now divided between regime and rebel-held areas, with large swathes of the city devastated by the fighting that began there in mid-2012.
In December, government aircraft launched a sustained blitz on the city that killed hundreds of people, mostly civilians.
Regime forces have launched an offensive on rebel-held areas in the east of the city, with Defence Minister General Fahd al-Freij visiting the province on Friday.
Quoted by state news agency SANA, he praised the army for its "great victories and their liberation of many areas in Aleppo." On Sunday, Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the regime, said the army had "cleansed" most of Karam al-Turab on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo, and Bani Zeid in the north.
It said the army planned to take three eastern and three northern neighbourhoods to seize the city in a pincer movement.
It said "vast military operations" were also underway to capture the majority Turkmen town of Zara in central Homs province, near the famed Krak des Chevaliers castle and the Lebanese border.
The Observatory confirmed the army had seized most of Karam al-Turab, and said fierce fighting was underway around Zara.
It also seven people, six men and a women had been killed in a regime air raid on the town of Mleha, southeast of Damascus.
The latest violence came the day after Syrian government and opposition delegations wrapped up peace talks in Geneva without tangible results or a government committment to return to the table.
On Sunday, state news agency SANA carried scathing remarks from deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Moqdad, who accused the opposition of being "mercenaries manipulated by foreign forces."
Al-Watan added that the conflict had "transferred to the political and diplomatic field, which is one that the Syrians know well." "Syria has a strong army of diplomats and politicians who can defeat all those they face," the paper said.
A top international goal for the talks was greater humanitarian access, particularly in besieged areas like the Old City of Homs.
No deal was forthcoming and Western nations are now planning a UN Security Council resolution on the issue, as well as possibly on the slow pace of a programme to move Syria's chemical weapons out of the country.
Despite not being on the agenda at the talks, aid has entered the besieged Palestinian refugee camp Yarmuk on the outskirts of Damascus.
On Sunday, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA distributed hundreds of food parcels for the fourth consecutive day.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said 3,420 food parcels had been delivered to the estimated 18,000 people trapped in the camp since the agency gained access to it on January 18.
More than 136,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, and the fighting has raised tensions in neighbouring Lebanon.
On Saturday, a bomb killed four people and injured at least 15 others in the eastern town of Hermel.
The town is a stronghold of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which has come under attack since dispatching fighters to battle alongside Syria's regime.
The attacks have largely killed civilians.
Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, a group named after the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate but whose links to its namesake are unclear, claimed the latest attack, saying it was a response to Hezbollah's involvement in Syria.