Activists: Syria shells bread line; 10 dead

Syrian children line up to wait their turn to buy bread, outside a bakery shop in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria.
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

(AP) BEIRUT - Syrian forces shelling the besieged city of Aleppo struck a bread line outside a bakery and killed at least 10 people on Thursday, activists said.

Mohammad al-Hassan, an Aleppo-based activist who saw the aftermath of the attack, told the Associated Press by telephone that the shells struck at 6.30 a.m. when most people line up for bread — a staple that is running in short supply these days — before the day gets too hot.

"Three shells hit the street near the bakery and people who had been waiting were hit by shrapnel," he said. "There were people with their children there. It was like a river of blood."

Al-Hassan said he saw the dead bodies on the pavement and also spoke to witnesses at the scene. The two main activist groups, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, confirmed the details of the attack. The Observatory said 20 people were killed in shelling of Aleppo Thursday, including at least 10 outside the bakery.

An activist in Aleppo who identified himself by his first name only, Ibrahim, told AP by Skype that an artillery shell struck the al-Zarra bakery, the largest bakery in the Qadi Askar district. He said he had documented the names of 12 people who died there, adding there were more than 30 other unidentified bodies.

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The LCC said 49 people were killed all over Aleppo on Thursday, most of them in Qadi Askar, but the group did not give a specific toll for the bread line. The differing estimates could not be immediately reconciled. Syrian activists often give conflicting figures for death tolls in Syria, where most foreign journalists are banned and authorities place heavy restrictions on the media.

A video posted by activists online showed at least two small bloodied children covered with blankets and the bodies of three men soaked with blood which ran onto the pavement. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.

Hundreds of Syrians have been killed in three weeks of intense clashes in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, as President Bashar Assad's military forces have struggled to beat back rebels who have taken over several parts of the city of 3 million.

The fighting extends to a large swath of territory north of Aleppo up to the Turkish border to the north and west, where rebels have pushed the Syrian army from a number of towns.

As the Assad regime's grip on the ground slips, it is increasingly targeting rebel areas with attack helicopters and fighter jets — weapons the rebels can't challenge.

On Wednesday, the warplanes exacted a heavy toll with airstrikes on a residential neighborhood in the rebel-held town of Azaz close to the Turkish border. International watchdog Human Rights Watch said more than 40 people were killed and at least 100 wounded, many of them women and children.

The strikes leveled the better part of a poor neighborhood and sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover. So many were wounded that the local hospital locked its doors, directing residents to drive their injured to the nearby Turkish border for treatment on the other side.

The bombardment appeared aimed at rattling the sense of control that rebels have sought to project over the northwestern corner of Syria near the Turkish border since they drove Assad's army from the area last month.

AP reporters saw nine bodies in the bombings' immediate aftermath, including a baby.

Human Rights Watch, which investigated the site of the bombing two hours after the attack, put the number at over 40.

"This horrific attack killed and wounded scores of civilians and destroyed a whole residential block," said Anna Neistat, the group's acting emergencies director. "Yet again, Syrian government forces attacked with callous disregard for civilian life."