Assad’s barrel bombs kill 85 in Aleppo

In Aleppo, the raids with barrel bombs, as the crude weapons are known, have flattened residential buildings

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An offensive by Syrian regime helicopters using explosive-packed barrels on rebel areas of Syria's northern city of Aleppo killed at least 85 people on Saturday, a monitoring group said on Sunday.

“At least 85 people were killed, including 65 civilians, 10 of whom were children,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday.

In Aleppo, the raids with barrel bombs, as the crude weapons are known, have flattened residential buildings, forcing defenders to flee and allowing government troops to advance.

The blasts badly damaged buildings and caused a fuel tanker to explode, setting nearby vehicles alight, including one carrying a family of eight who were trying to flee the area as they heard the approaching helicopters, Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center told Associated Press via Skype.

A video showed men dragging a charred victim out of a smashed building.

“You want a political solution? Here is a political solution!” shouted one man as he pointed at two charred bodies on the rubble-strewn ground.

The man was referring to last week's conference in Switzerland between government officials and opposition activists seeking to resolve Syria's war, which began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 against Assad.

The conference did not produce any tangible results, but is likely to lead to backdoor negotiations.

Other barrel bombings in Aleppo killed three people near a mosque and another seven people in the Ansari quarter, activists said.

Ansari is frequently hit. On Friday, activists uploaded a video of what they said was a child being pulled alive from the rubble after shelling there. Scenes of civilians and firefighters pulling out dusty, bloodied bodies from under the rubble have become more frequent as the bombing continues.

The footage appeared authentic and reflected Associated Press reporting of the event.

The barrel bombing in Aleppo comes as Syrian government forces try retake the city, which has been divided into government- and opposition-held areas since mid-2012.

Over the past few weeks, government troops have fought their way to two rebel-held neighborhoods of Karam Tarrad and Karam Qaser, mostly by flattening residential buildings with barrel bombs, activists said.

Syrian troops have also taken advantage of infighting between a loose alliance of rebel brigades against an al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which is widely despised by other rebel groups and activists.

On Saturday, militants of the Islamic State carried out a twin suicide car bombing near a rival Islamic brigade near Aleppo, killing at least seven people, the Observatory said.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 136,000 people, in the latest count by the Britain-based Observatory, which tracks the missing and killed through a network of informants on the ground.

The war has also forcibly displaced one-third of Syria's prewar population of 23 million.

Tens of thousands more are blockaded in rebel-held areas.

They include the Yarmouk area on the southern edge of Damascus, where Assad loyalists have steadily intensified a blockade over the past year. Activists say this has led to the deaths of over 80 people from hunger-related illnesses or from a lack of medical aid.

Over the past two days, aid workers distributed 2,014 food parcels, each meant to feed a family for 10 days. The U.N. estimates there are at least 18,000 people in Yarmouk.

On Saturday, aid workers continued the distribution, handing over another 480 parcels by the afternoon, said U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness.

The spokesman said it was not enough to cover the needs of Yarmouk's residents.

Footage carried by Lebanese al-Mayadeen television showed hundreds of men and women, many with faces shrunken by malnutrition, desperately jostling to reach the distribution point.

“These tense scenes attest to the profound levels of need that pertain in a camp that has been besieged for months,” Gunness said.

[With AP]