BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government aircraft pounded opposition areas near the southern border with Jordan and in the northern city of Aleppo on Monday, a day after a series of airstrikes on the contested city killed at least 76 people, activists said.
President Bashar Assad's air force is his greatest advantage in the country's civil war, and he has successfully exploited it to push back against rebel advances across the country and to target civilian areas sympathetic to the opposition. Human rights groups say Syrian military aircraft have carried out indiscriminate air raids that frequently hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, bakeries and residential areas.
The government has relied on its air power in particular in northern Syria, much of which fell to opposition fighters over the course of the past year. One of the major battlegrounds on that front is Aleppo, where Assad's forces and rebels have been bogged down in a bloody fight since rebels launched an assault on the city in mid-2012.
On Monday, a day after government helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives on several Aleppo neighborhoods, the Britain-based Syrian observatory for Human Rights on Monday said the death toll from those strikes had risen to at least 76, including 28 children.
The government frequently uses barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of explosives and cause massive damage on impact. Amateur videos posted online showed the aftermath of Sunday's airstrikes: buildings leveled by the explosions, rubble-strewn streets and smoldering wreckage of vehicles.
Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said at least 12 neighborhoods were hit and put the death toll at 83. It said that number is likely to rise because of the large number of wounded and the lack of sufficient medical supplies.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the air raids, and accused the government of "waging a barbaric campaign on the city of Aleppo through which it seeks revenge and the spread of chaos."
In a statement, the Coalition also said it has documented the names of 103 people who were killed and more than 350 who were wounded in Aleppo, in addition to 21 who died in the town of Dumeir in Damascus suburbs in air raids.
"The Assad regime continues to kill civilians across Syria, blocking aid convoys from reaching stricken areas, and refuses to release prisoners — practically consecrating through all of that, its rejection of a political solution," it said.
The Syrian government and its opponents are scheduled to meet in Switzerland on Jan. 22 to hold their first face-to-face peace negotiations. The U.N.-brokered talks aim to find a political resolution to the Syrian civil war, a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since it began in March 2011.
The Observatory, which monitors the conflict through a network of activists inside Syria, reported more air raids Monday in Aleppo. It also said government warplanes struck in the southern province of Daraa, hitting the villages of Inkhil and Jassem. It said two women and two children were killed.
Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.