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85 killed in Aleppo barrel bomb attacks

Air raids over Aleppo killed dozens as forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad continued an offensive on the city.

A man gestures while resting at a damaged site after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad in Al Sukkari neighbourhood in Aleppo on February 2, 2014. Karam Al Halabi/Reuters
A man gestures while resting at a damaged site after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad in Al Sukkari neighbourhood in Aleppo on February 2, 2014. Karam Al Halabi/Reuters

DAMASCUS // At least 85 people were killed in 24 hours of Syrian regime air raids on the city of Aleppo, a monitoring group said on Sunday.

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.

Attacks targeted several areas of the city, with 34 killed in the southeastern Tariq Al Bab area alone, among them six children.

Another 22 civilians, including another six children, were killed in the Salhine, Ansari and Marjeh districts, with nine others killed in other parts of the city.

The Britain-based Observatory said 10 militants from Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, were also killed in a local headquarters in the city.

Ten other deaths in the attacks were recorded but the identities of the dead had not been confirmed.

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, most of them civilians.

Regime forces recently 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 the Karam Al Turab on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo, and Bani Zeid in the north.

The paper 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.

On Saturday, the Observatory reported that more than 136,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll at the end of January was at least 136,227.

The group’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said “January was among the bloodiest months since the beginning of the conflict” in March 2011.

Among the dead were 47,998 civilians, including more than 7,300 children.

The Observatory said the real toll could be much higher because of the extreme secrecy of rebels, Islamist militants and the regime about casualty figures.

The conflict began after a regime crackdown on peaceful anti-government demonstrations, sparking an armed uprising against president Bashar Al Assad.

In addition to the dead and a much larger number of wounded, millions of people have been displaced internally and as refugees.

At least another seven people died in a double car bombing carried out by the Islamist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) targeting a rebel headquarters in Aleppo, including a moderate rebel commander.

Moderate and Islamist opposition fighters have been battling Isil since early January, after accusing the group of a spate of abuses against civilians and rebels.

Meanwhile, in the central province of Hama, the Observatory said at least 12 government fighters were killed around the town of Morek.

The group said rebels, including from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, had seized Morek overnight, cutting a strategic regime supply line from Hama city to two military bases in neighbouring Idlib province.

The prospects of a peaceful outcome looked dim after 10 days of talks in Geneva yielded no tangible results and the regime said it was unsure whether it would return to the negotiating table.

* Agence France-Presse