Syrian army advances in Aleppo

Associated Press
In this citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center (AMC), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians inspect the rubble of destroyed buildings following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 . Activists said the latest Syrian government shelling has killed and wounded several people in a rebel-held area of the northern city of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian military helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 13 people including a family trapped in a car, as government forces inched closer to opposition-held areas.

The barrel bombs, as the crude weapons are known, wrecked three buildings in the al-Bab area of Aleppo, Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center said via Skype. Another local activist and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights corroborated the information.

The blasts 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, said Abu Faisal.

Photos uploaded by activists showed a man hurling a bucket of water into a building engulfed in flames and black smoke. 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 in the rubble-strewn ground. The footage reflected The Associated Press' reporting of the event.

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 President Bashar Assad.

The conference did not produce any tangible results, but is likely to lead to backdoor negotiations that may resolve the crisis.

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

Over the past few weeks, government troops have inched closer to rebel-held neighborhoods of Karam Tarrad and Karam Qaser, mostly by flattening residential buildings with barrel bombs, forcing civilians to flee and making it difficult for rebel fighters to stay, activists said.

"They are wiping buildings off the ground. These are poor areas, and the buildings aren't constructed very well," Abu Faisal said.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 130,000 people and forcibly displaced one-third of the entire prewar population of 23 million, including over 2 million who have flooded into neighboring countries.

Tens of thousands more are blockaded in rebel-held areas, where Assad loyalists prevent food and aid from entering to break their resistance and to flush out fighters, including extremists linked to al-Qaida.

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

The area has traditionally been dominated by Palestinian residents of Syria.

Aid convoys are expected to deliver 1,000 food parcels there on Saturday, said a Palestinian official who went by the name of Abu Jamal.

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

The U.N. has welcomed the distribution but said it was still not enough to cover the needs of Yarmouk's residents.


With additional reporting by Albert Aji in Damascus