Airstrike kills 8 in Syria town near Turkey border

Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, speaks at a news conference in Damascus on Saturday.

Associated Press

Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, speaks at a news conference in Damascus on Saturday.

BEIRUT — A Syrian warplane on Saturday bombed a small town partially controlled by anti-regime fighters near the Turkish border, killing eight people and wounding at least 20, the latest escalation in the use of air power by President Bashar Assad's government in the Arab nation's civil war.

The afternoon airstrike, reported by activists in the area as well as the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, was one of at least two on Saturday. The increased use of airstrikes by the regime is taking its toll on civilians, and, in the eyes of activists, is evidence of its insensitivity to civilian casualties as it battles for survival against the rebels.

The regime's growing use of warplanes also comes at a time when Western powers are looking into suggestions for militarily enforcing a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Russia rejects the idea.

The airstrike on the town of Manbej in the Jarablous area came hours after a government announcement said Syria welcomed the appointment of former Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the new U.N. point man in efforts to halt the civil war.

Brahimi takes over from former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is stepping down on Aug. 31 after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed. His appointment comes as U.N. observers have begun leaving Syria, with their mission officially over by midnight today.

In Syria, activists and the London Observatory could not say what was the intended target of the lone air force MiG-25 when it rocketed Manbej, which has a population of about 40,000. The wounded were treated in field hospitals in the town and in clinics across the border in Turkey.

A second airstrike earlier in the day targeted the northern border town of Azaz, where more than 40 people were killed and at least 100 wounded in an airstrike earlier this week, according to international watchdog Human Rights Watch. Activists said Saturday's bombs hit an open field. There were no casualties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a televised interview that his country has rejected foreign intervention in the form of a militarily enforced no-fly zone for government aircraft in northern Syria — an idea he said was mentioned as a possible option by U.S. officials last week.

"That would be a violation of sovereignty if this included areas (in) Syrian territory, as well as a breach of the United Nations charter," Lavrov told Sky News Arabia in the interview Saturday.

"There are initiatives by the (U.N.) to provide aid to refugees in camps on the territory of Turkey and Jordan and other countries as per the international humanitarian law," he said in a transcript provided by the Abu Dhabi-based Arabic-language station. "But if they are trying to create safe zones and no-fly zones for military purposes by citing an international crisis, that is unacceptable."

In other violence Saturday, regime forces shelled rebel areas across the country, including the southern province of Daraa, the northern region of Aleppo, Deir el-Zour to the east, and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, activists said. They said at least 15 people were killed in the Deir el-Zour area.

Also Saturday, 40 bodies were found piled in a heap on a street in the Damascus suburb of al-Tal, according to the Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees.

The 40 had all been killed by bullet wounds, but their identities were unknown and it was unclear who had killed them, according to the Observatory.

Rebels, officials differ on defection

Syria denied Saturday that Vice President Farouk Shara had defected as opposition reports continued to provide conflicting accounts of whether he had fled to neighboring Jordan or was still in the country. "Shara has never at any moment thought of leaving the homeland to whatever direction," state media reported, citing a statement released by the vice president's office.

However, a spokesman with the rebel Free Syrian Army said Friday that Shara had left the country. Meanwhile, an official with the opposition Syrian National Council told the Al Arabiya news channel that Shara had planned to defect and leave the country but that he was being held under house arrest.

If true, the defection would be the biggest blow yet to the government of President Bashar Assad and the latest in a series of defections that have raised questions about how long his government can last.

Los Angeles Times

Airstrike kills 8 in Syria town near Turkey border 08/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 10:32pm]

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