BEIRUT (AP) — Dozens of rebels and government forces have been killed in fighting near a police academy near the northern city of Aleppo, anti-regime activists said Tuesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead in the last two days of clashes included at least 26 rebel fighters, 40 soldiers and five pro-government militiamen.
The police academy, which activists say the government has turned into a military base, has recently emerged as a new front in the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Since storming into the city in July 2012, rebels have slowly expanded their control there while taking over army installations in the northern countryside. Losing the police academy would make it more difficult for the regime to shell opposition areas and support its troops inside the city.
The Observatory reported fresh fighting near the academy on Tuesday, with the two sides shelling each other and the government launching airstrikes on rebel positions.
The fighting has largely destroyed Aleppo, long considered one of Syria’s most beautiful cities, and caused humanitarian conditions for the city’s remaining civilians to plummet.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said more than 140 people had been killed in at least 4 missile strikes by the Syrian government in and near the city of Aleppo last week. About half of the dead were children, it said.
The New York-based group said the strikes hit residential areas and called them an “escalation of unlawful attacks against Syria’s civilian population.”
A Human Rights Watch researcher who visited the sites said up to 20 buildings were destroyed in each area hit by a missile. There were no signs of any military targets in the residential districts, located in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and its northern countryside, said Ole Solvang, the researcher.
Human rights watch said 71 children were among the 141 people killed in the four strikes. Three hit neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo city. One hit in the village of Tel Rifat, north of Aleppo.
Syria has never acknowledged the strikes, and portrays the conflict as a foreign conspiracy carried out by “terrorists” to weaken the country.
Also Tuesday, the Observatory said the death toll in a car bomb attack in Damascus had risen to eight. All were regime security officers, it said.
The blast late Monday struck a security checkpoint in the neighborhood of Qaboun, less than a kilometer (mile) from Abbasid Square, northeast of downtown. It was followed by several other smaller blasts thought to be mortar shells landing in various districts of the capital.
The explosions and subsequent gunfire caused panic among residents who hid in their apartments.
Syria’s state news agency said the blast was caused by a suicide car bomber and caused an unspecified number of casualties.
The UN says some 70,000 have been killed since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.