Last Updated: Wed Aug 15, 2012 23:23 pm (KSA) 20:23 pm (GMT)

Syria air strike pummels Aazaz, at least 31 people killed

The air strike flattened a string of houses and killed 31 people including children, activists said. (AP)
The air strike flattened a string of houses and killed 31 people including children, activists said. (AP)

A Syrian air strike on a rebel bastion in the north Wednesday flattened a string of houses and killed 31 people including children, activists said, leaving residents wailing in grief and anger.

“Bashar did this. God help us, these animals will kill us all,” said one man, hoisting a bloodied arm from a pile of body parts on the pavement outside the hospital in the town of Aazaz after the bombardment.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 31 people were killed in the attack by a MiG fighter jet, the latest atrocity blamed on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, but the toll was expected to rise.

The dead included women and children, while another 200 people were wounded, it said.

“There are many people still trapped under the rubble,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. “The situation is horrific.”

An AFP correspondent said at least 10 houses had been flattened in the attack on Aazaz which lies just north of the main battleground city of Aleppo and is often used as rear base by rebel Free Syrian Army fighters.

“This was a civilian area. All these houses were packed with women and children sleeping during the fast,” said witness Abu Omar, a civil engineer in his 50s, referring to the dawn-to-dusk fast Muslims observe during Ramadan.

“Only dogs can do something like this. Israel wouldn’t do such a thing in a war,” he told AFP.

Witnesses and FSA forces who reinforced security around the town after the strike said the jet fired twice, targeting a makeshift media center used by foreign reporters in the second, smaller strike.

Assad’s forces have increasingly used helicopter gunships and warplanes against the lightly-armed insurgents - elements in fresh accusations of war crimes leveled by United Nations human rights investigators on Wednesday.

The attack came amid heavy shelling of several districts of Aleppo, regarded as a pivotal battleground in the conflict that is now entering its 18th month.

Dozens of people, many wailing and shouting, were climbing over the rubble, trying to pull out victims, while hundreds of others fled.

Abdel Rahman said that among those wounded were four of a group of 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims who were kidnapped near Aazaz in May.

Witnesses said the bomb must have weighed at least half a ton and the impact shattered windows up to four blocks away.

Residents insisted there was no rebel base where the bomb struck but some said the families of FSA fighters lived there.

“Nobody knows how high the toll will climb now. It could take days to finish searching through the rubble,” said Abu al-Baraa, a doctor who had just arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia to help.

“Nobody can understand why they targeted women and children. They must have wanted to punish the families of fighters,” he said.

War crimes

In Damascus, a bomb exploded in the car park of a hotel used by U.N. monitors, but several military buildings are also in the vicinity and it was not clear what the target was. No U.N. staff were hurt in the blast which set a fuel tanker ablaze.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, on a mission to seek more access for aid deliveries, was meeting European Union officials in Damascus when the bomb went off.

She herself was unable to reach the town of Douma, a trouble spot just north of the capital, due to bombardment.

“Waiting at checkpoint to get into Duma. Sounds of shelling. Could not enter,” Amos tweeted. The authorities told her she had been turned back for her own safety, her spokesman said later.

As the violence intensified, U.N. human rights investigators accused forces loyal to Assad of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They said rebels had also committed war crimes, but the violations “did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale” of those by state forces and the pro-Assad shabbiha militia.

“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and the shabbiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging and destruction of property,” said the 102-page report by the independent investigators led by Paulo Pinheiro.

Last month, Assad’s troops successfully counter-attacked after rebels seized parts of Damascus. They are still trying to dislodge insurgents from Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.

Opposition sources say 18,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad erupted in March last year. The bloodshed has divided regional and world powers, making peace efforts fruitless and paralyzing the U.N. Security Council.

Most Western and Arab governments have called on Assad to go, saying his government's violent response to initially peaceful protests give him no place in a future Syria.

Russia has opposed tougher U.N. sanctions against Damascus, a long-time strategic ally, but denies it is actively helping Assad remain in power. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Western governments of reneging on a deal among world powers made on June 30 to push for a transitional government in Syria.

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