Middle East

Syria conflict: Deadly air strike on Aleppo market

Aftermath of reported air strike in Aleppo's Halak district (1 May 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The popular market was reportedly packed with shoppers at the time of the air strike

At least 33 people have been killed in an air strike on a market in a rebel-held district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the attack happened in the northern Halak district.

The Aleppo Media Center, which put the death toll at more than 40, said two residential buildings were destroyed.

On Wednesday, government aircraft bombed a school in southern Aleppo, killing 18 people, 10 of them children.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) expressed outrage at what it said was the "latest wave of indiscriminate attacks perpetrated against schools and other civilian targets" across the country.

"These attacks appear to be escalating, in complete disregard of all the calls that have been made to stop this insane cycle of violence, and to avoid similar breaches of international law," it said.

'Densely populated'

Rebel-held areas of Aleppo have come under fierce aerial bombardment since mid-December, as government forces try to end a long-standing stalemate in the city.

Many attacks have seen barrel bombs dropped indiscriminately from helicopters on heavily-populated areas, leaving hundreds of civilians dead and driving thousands from their homes.

Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory, a UK-based group that relies on a network of activists and medics across Syria, told the AFP news agency that on Thursday a fighter jet had fired two missiles within a space of a few minutes at the market in the Halak.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption It was not immediately clear if barrel bombs or missiles were used in the attack
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A number of residential buildings and shops were destroyed or damaged
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The United Nations Children's Fund has expressed outrage at the indiscriminate attacks on civilians
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Both government and rebel forces have launched new offensives in Aleppo in recent days

Local activists said a government helicopter had dropped three barrel bombs on the area, which had been packed with shoppers at the time.

"It was mayhem; many of the bodies are burned," one of them, Hasson Abu Faisal, told the Associated Press.

A video posted online showed an ambulance trying to make its way across rubble and past badly damaged buildings and the burning wreckages of cars.

A man could be heard crying "Allahu Akbar (God is great)" as he picks up body parts and wraps them in clothing.

Activists said Halak had rarely been a target of air strikes in recent months, leading many people from neighbouring areas to move there.

"It is a very densely populated area," said Mr Abu Faisal, adding that several shops in the market had been selling barrels of fuel for electrical generators, which apparently caught fire after the air strike.

Makeshift hospitals in the area were reportedly inundated.

The main Western-backed opposition alliance, the National Coalition, condemned the attack.

"The international community must take immediate measures to protect civilians from air strikes and neutralise the regime's aircraft, which are showering Aleppo neighbourhoods with barrels of death every day while the entire world watches," a statement said.

Rebel fighters have been trying in recent weeks to advance on areas of Aleppo where government forces are entrenched. On Sunday, they fired mortar shells at parts of the Old City.

Mortar fire in central Damascus and in the suburb of Jaramana on Thursday killed two people, one of them a child, and wounded 22 others, state media reported.

Meanwhile, the deadline for candidates to register for the presidential election on 3 June closed.

Twenty-four applications have been received. They include President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled since taking over from his father in 2000, but reportedly no genuine opposition representatives.

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