BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government aircraft unleashed a wave of airstrikes on more than a dozen rebel-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, as President Bashar Assad’s forces inched into areas controlled by opposition fighters for more than a year, activists said.
Aleppo has been a key battleground in Syria’s civil war since rebels swept into the city in mid-2012 and wrested most of the eastern and southern neighborhoods from the government. Assad’s air force for weeks has pounded those areas with barrel bombs — crude containers packed with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal — that cause massive damage on impact.
On Sunday alone, Syrian military helicopters and warplanes targeted 15 opposition-held neighborhoods, said an activist who goes by the name of Abu al-Hassan Marea.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Tariq al-Bab district alone was hit at least eight times on Sunday. Marea said one of the airstrikes in the neighborhood struck a vegetable market and another landed near a mosque.
The Aleppo Media Center activist group said the strike near the Abdullah bin Masoud Mosque killed more than 10 people.
Neither the Aleppo Media Center nor the Observatory had a total death toll for the day’s carnage, but Marea said that more than 50 people were killed in the airstrikes across the city, although he did not have an exact count.
An amateur video posted online shows a helicopter circling in the blue sky, and then a barrel plummeting from the aircraft until it slams into buildings on the horizon, sending a pillar of smoke and dust into the air. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events depicted.
This is not the first time that government aircraft has waged an intense aerial campaign on Aleppo. In December, military helicopters pounded rebel-held districts of Aleppo with barrel bombs for days, leveling buildings, burying people under the rubble and killing more than 500 people over a two-week stretch.
The misery in Aleppo was then compounded in early January by an outburst of rebel-on-rebel fighting, which has weakened the opposition’s grip on parts of the city.
Over the past two weeks, Assad’s forces have slowly chipped away at the rebels’ hold on neighborhoods in southeastern Aleppo. While the advances have been small, they still mark the most significant government gains in the divided city since opposition fighters seized the areas in mid-2012.
As intense as the airstrikes have been, the rebels’ position in Aleppo and across northern Syria has been undermined to a greater degree by a bloody bout of infighting that pits the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant against an array of ultraconservative brigades and more moderate factions.
The rebel infighting has killed more than 1,400 people since it began a month ago, and it shows little sign of coming to an immediate close.
On Saturday, a twin suicide bombing killed 26 people, including a senior military commander of the Tawhid Brigade, a prominent rebel group opposed to the Islamic State.
The attack, widely blamed by both pro- and anti-al-Qaeda activists on the Islamic State, targeted the base of its rivals in the Tawhid Brigade and killed senior leader Adnan Bakkour, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.
The Islamic State also killed another prominent commander, Abu Hussein al-Dik of Suqour al-Sham, on Saturday near the central city of Hama, the Observatory said. Abdurrahman said al-Dik was killed in an ambush outside of Hama, where he was traveling to try to help rebels encircled by Islamic State fighters.
Both the Tawhid Brigade and Suqour al-Sham are part of the Islamic Front, a powerful alliance of seven Islamist rebel factions that united in November. The Islamic Front has emerged as a heavy weight in northern Syria, and has been a driving force in the fight against the Islamic State.
Analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the Islamic State “appears to be targeting particularly strategic locales and individuals in its continuing operations against perceived enemy rebels.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.