DAMASCUS - Syrian aircraft bombarded the divided city of Aleppo on Sunday, killing dozens of people in a single neighbourhood with crude explosives-filled barrels in a tactic widely condemned as unlawful. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights singled out the barrel bombing of three opposition districts in the northern city as especially deadly, saying at least 44 people had been killed, including six children.
Hundreds of people have been killed during the past week in Aleppo as regime aircraft have dropped barrels filled with TNT on Syria's second city and onetime commercial hub, now largely reduced to rubble, according to activists, medics and other witnesses. The Observatory said the raids killed at least 44 people in the Aleppo districts of Hanano, Ahmadiyeh and Haydariyeh, adding the number was likely to rise as dozens were critically wounded or missing.
Its director Rami Abdel Rahman said President Bashar al-Assad's regime "is trying to turn people in opposition areas against the rebels. It is killing and forcing people to flee in order to secure that goal." The Aleppo Media Centre network of citizen journalists also expressed concern about the bombing of the neighbourhood of Hanano, saying a bus had been struck, "leaving no survivors". Other air raids targeted rebel-held areas across Aleppo, which has been split between rebels and regime forces since the summer of 2012, as well as two nearby villages, the Observatory said.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network described "panic and mass flight to the countryside, despite the intense cold," and said the dead included two ambulance workers killed as they tried to help wounded people. Aleppo's opposition Provincial Council said schools in rebel-held areas would be closed for a week because of the "systematic, deliberate bombing," after two schools were hit Sunday. On Saturday Human Rights Watch had accused government forces of using weapons and tactics that fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants, making such attacks "indiscriminate and therefore unlawful".
It also condemned the reported use of barrel bombs, adding that "military commanders should not... order the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas". Elsewhere in Syria, a car bombing in the Shiite village of Omm al-Amd in the central province of Homs killed eight people, including six schoolchildren, state media reported. The Observatory, a Britain-based group that relies on a network of activists and other witnesses inside Syria, reported a higher death toll of at least 12, including five children.
It said Omm al-Amd is home to a Shiite community supportive of Assad, unlike the majority Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple him.
An estimated 126,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began after Assad launched a brutal crackdown on democracy protests first held in March 2011. Lack of treatment for wounded, ill
The International Committee of the Red Cross said another half-million people have been wounded, millions displaced and tens of thousands detained. "The wounded are often not cared for properly and the chronically ill often do not receive the treatment they need," ICRC chief Magne Barth said, as the group again urged both sides to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians. Barth said Syrian authorities were preventing access to rebel-held areas besieged by loyalists troops, including in Homs and Damascus provinces. The situation is especially grim for the sick and wounded in areas of fierce fighting, such as Aleppo, where a young Reuters freelance photographer, Molhem Barakat, was killed while covering a battle on Friday.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Syria is the world's most dangerous country for journalists, with 27 professionals and 93 citizen journalists killed since March 2011. The remains of British doctor Abbas Khan, who died in a Syrian jail, were meanwhile flown back to London on Sunday. British authorities and the doctor's family have accused his jailers of killing him days before he was to be released, charges denied by Damascus, which says he committed suicide in prison. The doctor's sister Sara told Sky News Sunday it was "absolutely despicable that the Syrians feel that they can give us multiple explanations for his death." A British government source said Prime Minister David Cameron had written to Khan's family and said the Syrian regime must "answer for" the doctor's "sickening" death.