BEIRUT — Tank shells fired by Syrian government forces slammed into a building in a southern city, killing at least 11 people there, including women and children, activists said Sunday.
The attack was part of the latest push by President Bashar Assad’s troops to recapture land lost to rebels in the southern province and city of Daraa, the birthplace of Syria’s uprising. It was there in 2011 that several youths were arrested for scrawling graffiti calling for Assad’s downfall.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said at least four women and three children, including a baby, were among those killed in the attack late Saturday.
Syria’s official news agency said that rebels fired mortars toward a government building in Daraa, but offered no further details.
Videos posted on social networking sites by opposition activists showed bodies of the victims on the floor of a darkened room.
“Oh God, what a disaster!” weeps an elderly woman in the video as a man holds the body of a dead baby, wrapped in a sheet. The bodies of a young girl with short curly hair and a boy lie nearby. The video was consistent with Associated Press reporting of the incident.
A pro-rebel activist in a nearby town, who identified himself as Abu Musab, said the civilians were killed in crossfire during a battle in the city center.
The building they were in took a direct hit after Syrian forces fired tank shells toward rebels holed up near it, said Abu Musab, speaking to the AP on Skype. He declined to use his real name, citing concerns for his safety.
There have been frequent clashes in and around Daraa between Assad’s forces and the mostly Sunni rebels. On Wednesday, rebels overran a military post near the city. Late last month they also captured a nearby military base that previously served as the customs office on the outskirts of Daraa.
Syrian uprising started as mostly peaceful anti-Assad demonstrations in March 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring. After activists were violently targeted, it morphed into an armed uprising and civil war. The conflict has killed over 100,000 people, forced over 2 million to flee to neighboring countries, and displaced another 5 million within Syria.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.