Saturday, February 24, 2018

Bakery massacre in Syria dims prospects for a holiday truce

Syrian artillery gunners shelled a bread bakery full of workers and customers on Tuesday in an insurgent-held neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 30 in what activists and videographers described as a sudden and devastating attack.

The shelling at Al Zura Bakery was among the more graphic episodes of violence to hit Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, on Tuesday, casting further doubts on the already dim prospects of a nationwide cease-fire for the coming Eid al-Adha holiday, which the newly appointed peace envoy from the United Nations and Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been trying to negotiate for the past week.

Disturbing video uploaded to the Internet, which appeared genuine but could not be corroborated independently, showed what was described as the aftermath of the bakery shelling in Aleppo's Hanano district, with mangled bodies interspersed with upended loaves of freshly baked pita on the bakery's bloodied floor, as screaming rescue workers hauled the dead and wounded to waiting pickup trucks and taxicabs. Some of the victims were children, including a girl who was decapitated.

Abu al-Hasan, an activist from the Aleppo suburb of Maree, said in a Skype interview that most of the dead were bakery workers. He said it was unclear whether the attackers had been aiming for the bakery, located in a large warehouse. "The problem is those kinds of missiles are not guided to their intended targets," he said. "They're not precise. They fall on random buildings."

He said the shelling came as residents of the neighborhood, who had been too afraid to venture outside for the past few days, finally took the risk in order to buy food for Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that starts Friday.

Aleppo, near Syria's northern border with Turkey, has been under siege for three months and has become a focal point of the insurgency against President Bashar Assad. Rebels have frustrated attempts by Syrian forces to retake the entire city and have threatened to cut off the military's supply lines there.

At the same time, bakeries in rebel-held areas of Aleppo have emerged as vitally important resources that are clearly potential targets for Syrian forces seeking to starve insurgents and their sympathizers into submission. Many of the bakeries are run by the insurgents, who have learned how to bake bread as part of the war effort.

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