DAMASCUS // The United Nations' special envoy on children in war was in Syria for talks yesterday, as concern mounts over the rising child death toll in the country's bloody two-year conflict.
Six children were among 29 people killed in a devastating army bombardment of five villages in the north-west as residents prepared to break their Ramadan fast, a watchdog reported yesterday.
As US and Russian efforts to convene a Syria peace conference have faltered, forces loyal to the president, Bashar Al Assad, have launched counter-attacks against the rebels in the north-west, in the centre and around the capital.
Leila Zerrougui, the UN secretary general's special representative on children and armed conflict, will spend three days in Syria, the UN said.
She is to meet government officials, UN representatives and non-governmental organisations as part of a tour that will also take her to neighbouring Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, the main host countries for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition watchdog, more than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, more than 5,000 of them children under the age of 16.
The Observatory said 13 people were killed in Maghara in the deadliest of air and artillery bombardments of villages in the north-western province of Idlib on Sunday.
Another six people were killed in the village of Al Bara, four in Basamis, three in Kfar Nabl in an air strike, and three in Iblin, according to the Britain-based group, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and doctors on the ground across Syria. The dead included at least eight women as well as the six children, it added.
Video footage posted online by activists showed harrowing scenes of death and destruction in Maghara, with survivors screaming as the camera panned over the rubble.
"God is great. Where are our Muslim brothers? Where are our Arab brothers?" the activist says as he films residents trying to dig out people trapped beneath the wreckage of their homes.
"This is the iftar of the Muslims in Jabal Zawiya," he said, referring to the hill district where the village lies. "A massacre in the village of Maghara," he adds, as residents fill buckets and bowls with water to put out fires.
A second video showed smoke billowing over the village and residents lifting a dust-covered older man, his stomach torn open, on to a flatbed truck. Another man lay dead on the ground, his body and clothes covered in grey dust flecked with blood, his mouth open, his arm curled upwards and his hand on his chest.
The Observatory also reported that at least 13 people - 10 policeman and three civilians - were killed in Damascus province on Sunday night, when a car bomb exploded outside a police station in the town of Deir Attiya.
The attacks came as the army pressed an offensive in the Damascus district of Qaboun, where the regime is trying to uproot several rebel rear bases.
The Observatory said at least 18 people were killed in the fighting.
Regime troops backed by tanks and artillery advanced into Qaboun yesterday, a rebel commandersaid.
"They made inroads into Qaboun. We are still on the high buildings but they took lots of civilians to prevent us from hitting them," said Mohammad Abu al-Hoda of the Free Syrian Army.
He said the hostages were being held in a mosque and two schools.
The Qaboun Coordination Committee, an activist group, said at least 60 people had been killed in the district in the past few days by the shelling and subsequent clashes.
Two adjacent rebel-held neighbourhoods have been under sustained fire in recent weeks to cut off the movement of rebel fighters.
Mr Al Assad's regime has made eradicating rebel rear bases in the Damascus region a priority as it seeks to prevent rebel attacks in the capital.
Nationwide, at least 129 people were killed on Sunday, the Observatory said.