Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

December 24, 2012

Syria jets kill tens as international envoy visits

BEIRUT (AP) — A government airstrike Sunday on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people, activists said, casting a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country's civil war.

The strike on the town of Halfaya left scattered bodies and debris up and down a street, and more than a dozen dead and wounded were trapped in tangled heap of dirt and rubble.

The attack appeared to be the government response to a newly announced rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and village north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area's towns to be "liberated" by rebel fighters, and activists saw Sunday's attack as payback.

"Halfaya was the first and biggest victory in the Hama countryside," said Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee via Skype. "That's why the regime is punishing them in this way."

The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed. That number is expected to rise, it said, because some 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.

Amateur videos posted online Sunday showed residents and armed rebels rushing to the scene. One stopped to cover a mound of human flesh lying in the street with his coat.

More than a dozen dead or seriously wounded people lay in the street near a simple, concrete building, some in puddles of blood. Near its front wall, bodies jutted from a pile of dirt and rubble on the sidewalk.

Rebels screamed in distress while trying to extract the bodies, while others carried away the wounded.

It was unclear from the videos if the building was indeed a bakery. Nearly all the dead and wounded appeared to be men, some wore camouflage, raising the possibility that the jet had targeted a rebel gathering.

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