Barrel bombs kill 13 in Syria’s Aleppo, says NGO

The fighting came as both sides reported “positive” results at peace talks in Geneva

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Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held districts of Aleppo Wednesday, killing 13 people as they pressed an assault southeast of the northern city, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported more than 20 barrel bombs had been dropped on the town of Daraya, southwest of the capital Damascus.

And the Britain-based group reported government troops battled rebel forces near Krak des Chevaliers, a famed Crusader castle between the central city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast.

The fighting came even as both sides reported “positive” results at peace talks in Geneva after four days of deadlock.

A woman and a young girl were among the dead when government helicopters dropped the controversial munitions on the Maadi district of south Aleppo, the Observatory said.

The explosives-packed barrels were also dropped on the nearby Salhin, Sheikh Najjar and Ashrafiyeh neighborhoods, it added, without having any immediate word on any casualties.

Government forces have launched an offensive to the southeast of Aleppo, Syria’s pre-civil war commercial capital, aimed at securing the international highway and expanding their area of control around Nairab airbase, security sources said.

The offensive has already won them their first gains in the area in more than a year, with the capture of the Karm al-Qasr district on the city's southeastern fringes, the Observatory said Tuesday.

Elsewhere in Aleppo province, clashes erupted between rebels and fighters of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the town of Al-Bab.

Despite ostensibly fighting on the same side of Syria’s war, clashes between the groups erupted in early January after growing anger over ISIS’s reported abuses of civilians and rival rebels.

The Observatory said on Wednesday at least 1565 people had been killed in the clashes, including 208 civilians, 878 rebels and Islamist fighters and 459 ISIS forces.

Twenty others killed in the fighting had not yet been identified, the group said, adding the total number of deaths among fighters from both sides could be much higher because of attempts to conceal the true figures.

And near Krak des Chevaliers, government forces launched four air raids on the town of Zara, in an area where fierce battles with rebels left 26 people dead on Tuesday, the Observatory added.

As international pressure mounted at the peace talks in Geneva for the two sides to reach agreement on steps to address the plight on civilians trapped by the fighting, a senior official said the government was ready to grant safe passage to all those who wanted to leave the besieged Old City of Homs.

Provincial governor Talal Barazi told the state SANA news agency that “preparations to guarantee the exit of civilians who want to leave the Old City” were complete.

The Old City has been under siege for some 600 days, according to the opposition, with aid agencies unable to enter for more than a year.

There has been disappointment over the failure of the two sides to agree any humanitarian measures, especially for besieged residents of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, where U.N. trucks are waiting for access to deliver food and medical aid.

The regime has agreed to allow women and children to leave besieged areas of the city, but the opposition wants aid to be allowed in.

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