BEIRUT// Dozens of people were killed and many more wounded in an airstrike that hit a Syrian bakery where a large crowd was queueing for bread yesterday hours before UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus to push for a negotiated solution to the 21-month-old civil war.
If confirmed, the attack on Halfaya, in the central province of Hama, would be one of the deadliest airstrikes of Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 40,000, according to various sources. "There is no way to really know yet how many people were killed.
When I got there, I could see piles of bodies all over the ground. There were women and children," said Samer Al Hamawi, an activist in the town of Halfaya. "There are also dozens of wounded people."
Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said the death toll was still unclear: "From looking at the videos, I expect the death toll to be around or above 50, and not higher than 100. But for now I am keeping my estimate at dozens killed, until we have more information."
Halfaya had been seized by rebels last week. Activists said more than a thousand people had been lined up at the bakery in Halfaya. Shortages of fuel and flour have made bread production erratic across Syria, and bread lines are often hours long.
The attack came as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria yesterday in a new bid to resolve the civil war. He last visited on October 19. During that trip he met president Bashar Al Assad and other officials to clinch a temporary ceasefire for Eid Al Adha. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.
Mr Brahimi's trip, his third to Damascus since taking his post, appeared troubled from the start.
Instead of flying directly to Syria as he has on previous visits, he landed in Beirut and travelled to the Syrian capital by land because of fighting near the Damascus airport, Lebanese officials said.
Mr Brahimi did not speak publicly upon his arrival in Damascus. The Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters, said Mr Brahimi was expected to meet Mr Al Assad today.
Yesterday, Syria insisted its military played no role in last week's deadly clashes between pro- and anti-regime forces inside the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus.
Syria's information minister also played down the country's vice president Faruq Al Sharaa's assessment that the country's war could not be solved by military means.
"It is one opinion among 23 million opinions in Syria," Omran Al Zohbi said.
Associated Press with additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Press.