x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Syrian regime air raid kills 21 in town

Activists said that at least 45 people were killed in fighting around Damascus.

BEIRUT // At least 21 people were killed yesterday in eastern Syria when a fighter jet bombed an apartment building, according to opposition activists.

Twelve women and a child died in the air raid in the city of Mayadin near the Iraq border, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The figures and details could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile more than 20 people were killed in the town of Daraya, opposition activists said, as government troops backed by tanks stepped up an assault against areas on the outskirts of Damascus.

Syrian security forces this week have been fighting rebels to regain control of districts surrounding the capital, including Daraya, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Daraya, on the south-western edge of the Syrian capital, was stormed by government security forces yesterday following a three-day ground and aerial assault that has left at least 70 dead, activists said.

Hundreds of government troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles reportedly moved into the centre of the town, retaking control after Free Syrian Army fighters pulled out. Other reports indicated some rebels remained in the area.

"There are lots of bodies trapped in destroyed buildings and civilians are trying to flee towards Damascus," an activist in Daraya who gave his name as Abu Kinan told Reuters.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of Syrian activists, said that at least 45 people were killed yesterday in fighting around Damascus. The opposition group reported that most of the dead were from Daraya, where residents were appealing for medical aid and assistance. These reports could not be independently verified.

Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League mediator on Syria, told the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, yesterday that he was "honoured, flattered, humbled and scared" at the prospect of leading international efforts to broker peace in Syria's worsening 17-month conflict.

Mr Brahimi met Mr Ban for the first time since agreeing last week to replace Kofi Annan at the end of the month.

"Secretary general, when you called me I told you that I was honoured, flattered, humbled and scared and I am still in that frame of mind," Mr Brahimi said in New York. "The Syrian people, they will be our first masters. We will consider their interests above and before anyone else. We will try to help as much as we can, we will not spare any effort."

The United Nations said yesterday that the conflict has led to more than 200,000 people fleeing Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also said the continued fighting is leading to a greater surge of civilians seeking refuge than had been expected.

"There has been a dramatic increase in the number of [Syrian] refugees in the region during August, we're now at over 200,000 refugees in the region, that's over and above our planning figure for all 2012 of 185,000 refugees," the commissioner's spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

Many of the refugees have escaped to Turkey, while thousands of others have sought shelter in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. There are now believed to be some 74,000 registered Syrian refugees in Turkey and 39,500 in Lebanon.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, this week voiced concern about his country's ability to cope with many more refugees and suggested the UN may need to create a "safe zone" inside Syria.

As the international community continues to grapple with how to deal with the civil war in Syria, France has indicated it would be willing to take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over parts of the country. France's defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday that the creation of a limited no-fly zone by an "international coalition" should be considered.

"The scenario mentioned by [the US secretary of state] Hillary Clinton of a particular zone where there could be a banned area is something that needs to be studied," Mr Le Drian said in an interview with France 24 television.

The LCC reported at least 146 people killed in violence across the country yesterday. The figure is said to include more than 25 children.

Fighting was reported in places including Aleppo - where residents said combat jets and helicopter gunships struck rebel-held districts overnight Thursday - as well as in Deraa, Hama, Latakia and Idlib.

Avaaz, a global campaigning group, reported at least nine people killed, including seven from one family, after helicopter gunships fired on the town of Kansafra in Idlib province.

These reports also could not be independently confirmed.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press