Syria extends air campaign on Aleppo region: activists

Updated 22 December 2013
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Syria extends air campaign on Aleppo region: activists

BEIRUT: Syrian warplanes pounded northern Aleppo for a fifth consecutive day Thursday, unleashing their firepower against several rebel-held villages in the province, activists and a monitoring group said.
The latest attacks have killed at least 11 people in just two of the targeted villages, among them four women and two children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“After four days of helicopters dropping barrel bombs on Aleppo city, the regime changed the direction of its raids and struck the village of Tal Alam near Sfeira” southeast of Syria’s second city, the Aleppo Media Center said on Facebook.
Another activist network in the province, Shahba Press, reported air raids on Daret Ezza, Marea, Minbej and Anadan north of Aleppo city.
The villages targeted have been rebel-held for more than a year and have suffered frequent bombing.
But activists called Thursday’s raids an extension of a deadly five-day aerial campaign against the provincial capital itself.
The Observatory also reported the attacks, adding that the Aleppo area of Sheikh Najjar was hit with makeshift barrel bombs which are packed with TNT and are highly destructive.
The Britain-based group also updated its toll from warplane and barrel bomb attacks on Aleppo city to 161 people killed between Sunday and Thursday.
On Thursday alone, at least 11 others were killed in Minbej and Daret Ezza, said the Britain-based group.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had reported more than 189 killed by Wednesday evening from such attacks in Aleppo city alone.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said it would be difficult, “if not impossible,” for the regime’s military to advance on opposition areas of the country’s former commercial hub.
“But I think it is trying to make the population turn against the rebels, so that the people themselves expel the fighters,” he said.
One Syrian security source has denied that barrel bombs have been used against what the regime calls “terrorists,” but another said the military prefers such weapons over missiles because they are cheaper.
Aleppo has been locked in a stalemate for more than a year, since a massive rebel advance on the provincial capital in July 2012.
Parts of the city have remained squarely under regime control ever since, while others have been in opposition hands.
Fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, including paramilitaries and officers from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, also raged on the ground in Aleppo city, the Observatory said.
Syria’s war is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people in 33 months, and forced millions more to flee their homes.


Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza following rocket fire

Updated 4 min 17 sec ago
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Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza following rocket fire

  • Six sites were hit in the Gaza Strip, Hamas said in a statement
  • he UN says Israel’s 11-year blockade has resulted in a ‘catastrophic’ humanitarian situation
JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the closure of both of Israel’s border crossings with Gaza on Wednesday after a Palestinian rocket attack hit a southern city prompting retaliatory air strikes.
Lieberman ordered the closure of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and the Erez crossing for people, and the reduction of the permitted fishing zone along the Gaza coast to three nautical miles, the defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.
“Israeli jets started to attack terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli army said.
Six sites were hit in the Gaza Strip, its rulers Hamas said in a statement. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
A few hours earlier, a rocket hit the city of Beersheba — one of the first fired in recent weeks from the Palestinian territory.
“At 4 am (0100 GMT), Israelis in the city of Beersheba were running to bomb shelters after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel,” the Israeli army tweeted.
“We will defend Israeli civilians,” it added, suggesting there would be a military response.
Israeli police said: “A rocket struck the city of Beersheva a few moments ago causing damage.” There were no reports of casualties.
The rocket struck the garden of a house occupied by a family with three children who were being treated for shock, Israeli media reported.
The army reported another rocket was fired toward the sea.
It was unclear who fired the rockets but the Israeli army holds Hamas accountable for all rocket fire from the territory and commonly retaliates against its positions, regardless of who launched the weapons.
It comes after months of Palestinian protests along the Gaza border that have drawn a deadly response from Israeli troops and raised fears of a new war between Israel and Hamas, who have fought three since 2008.
At least 205 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began on March 30. One Israeli soldiers has been killed by Palestinian sniper fire over the same period.
The protesters have been demanding the right of return to land now inside Israel, from which their families were expelled or fled during the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of the Jewish state.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that the protests could not be allowed to go on.
“We are not prepared to accept the level of violence we see week after week,” he told troops and commanders at an army base near the Gaza border.
He also suspended deliveries of fuel that had been trucked daily into Gaza over the previous week under a deal brokered by the United Nations.
It had seen thousands of liters (gallons) of fuel paid for by gas-rich Gulf state Qatar delivered to boost power generation in the impoverished territory.
The UN says Israel’s 11-year blockade has resulted in a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation.
Gaza’s two million residents endure routine power cuts and a chronic shortage of safe drinking water, and more than two-thirds are dependent on international aid.