Syria regime aircraft kept up their relentless bombing runs around the country Friday one day after nearly 250 civilians and fighters were killed in one of the war’s bloodiest days in recent months.
Anti-regime activists said the government has boosted strikes against their strongholds in recent days in hopes of wearing out rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a anti-regime group of activists based in Britain, said of the 242 victims Thursday, half perished in government airstrikes.
The Local Coordination Committees, a Syria-based network of anti-regime activists, said 133 civilians were killed in Thursday’s violence, and a spokesperson for the group told The Daily Star it was the highest such total since Sept. 6 of last year, when 135 people were killed.
The LCC, unlike the Observatory, does not tally fighters killed in the war.
The surge was largely due to more than 60 airstrikes carried out against the Damascus suburbs, the Observatory said, as a rebel leader ordered a barrage of rockets and mortar bombs against regime positions in Damascus, believed to have killed around 10 people, including six civilians.The Observatory said 94 people, among them 22 fighters, were killed Thursday in the Ghouta suburbs. On Friday, pro-opposition media reported that many mosques in the Ghouta area canceled Friday prayers out of fear of further carnage.
The Observatory said 10 people were killed in the Ghouta suburbs by airstrikes Friday.
Among the latest wave of casualties were at least 25 civilians killed Thursday night when army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs into a crowded square in the city of Aleppo. Many victims were sitting in a public bus, while others were waiting to collect water from a tanker when the “barrels of death” – as the crude helicopter-dropped explosives are known to Syrians – landed.
An amateur video posted by activists online showed paramedics helping a wounded man whose face was covered with blood come out of the bus. The lifeless body of a woman can be seen in the back of the bus, while another man is lying on the pavement outside.
The footage shows paramedics, flashlights on their helmets, pulling an older man from a bus window in the darkness. An unidentified man offers a plea to the camera that bombs are “falling on us every day!”
“Is she alive? If she’s dead, leave her. ... The ones who are still breathing are a priority,” a rescue worker shouts frantically.
The video, which appeared genuine and corresponded to AP’s reporting of the events depicted, captured a daily snapshot of the carnage in Syria. The nearly 4-year-old conflict has claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf condemned the Assad forces’ latest attacks, singling out the use of barrel bombs against civilians who “were simply attempting to go about their day.”
“These attacks show an utter disregard for human life,” she said, arguing that “there can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under the leadership of this ruthless dictator. ... Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go.”
The Aleppo attack reflected a broader government offensive against rebel positions across Syria, where the civil war is attracting little attention versus the vicious exploits of ISIS. It controls large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, but anti-government activists say the world should keep its focus on the atrocities committed by Assad’s forces.
“Everything ISIS is doing now, the [Syrian] regime has done before and is still doing,” Syrian activist Ahmed al-Ahmad said. “But the world protects Assad and only cares about ISIS crimes.”
The Observatory said it already has recorded some 650 airstrikes across Syria this month. These include more than 350 barrel-bomb strikes in several areas, including the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and the nearby city of Idlib, and the southern province of Deraa.
Videos uploaded by activists showed scenes of chaos in eastern Ghouta as volunteers dug for survivors in the rubble of destroyed buildings. In a makeshift hospital, an adult was filmed dabbing blood from the face of a curly haired child wearing a green pullover.
Another showed a baby on a gurney, a white bandage wrapped around his head.
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