BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces dropped a crude bomb on a mosque that was being used as a school in a rebel-held neighborhood of a key northern city on Tuesday, killing at least five people, including children, activists said.
The bombing — one of at least seven around Aleppo on Tuesday — came amid an intensified campaign by President Bashar Assad's government to take back parts of the city that were seized by rebels in mid-2012.
Far from the battlegrounds in Syria, Assad's biggest international ally expressed confidence the government would return to the U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva that are trying to find a solution to the conflict.
Russian deputy foreign minister and Moscow's special envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, said Tuesday he was sure the Syrian government would take part in the second round of the talks. Syria's crisis, which erupted as a peaceful uprising against Assad's rule in March 2011 but descended into an armed revolt and full-blown civil war has killed more than 130,000 people and forced almost a third of the country's prewar population of 23 million from their homes.
"We have no doubts that the government representatives will take place in a second round of talks between the Syrian sides in Geneva," Bogdanov said in comments carried on Russian news agencies. "We hope that both sides will continue a patient, constructive discussion."
He spoke following a meeting in Moscow with visiting Syrian opposition group, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. Assad's side has not committed or said publicly whether it would attend the next round, expected on Feb. 10. The first round of talks in January failed to secure any meaningful agreement, other than to meet again later this month for more talks.
Syria's opposition points to the air raids, especially the use of barrel bombs — crude devices packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal — in civilian areas, particularly over Aleppo, as evidence that Assad has little interest in peace.
The mosque targeted Tuesday in Aleppo — the Uthman Bin Affan mosque in the Masaken Hanano district — was used as a religious school for children, said activist Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center.
He said children were inside when it was hit with a barrel bomb. The Local Coordinating Committees, another activist group, says five people were killed in the strike. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the victims were children. Abu Faisal said 10 people were killed but conflicting casualty tolls follow such attacks are common.
Footage posted on social media shows men carrying at least two lifeless bodies of children, covered in dust and blood. The area in the footage is strewn with rocks, concrete and bodies. The lifeless bodies of an adult and a child are lying on the pavement. One man is seen walking past, clutching his head in anguish. The video was consistent with the Associated Press' reporting of the event.
Assad's troops have been pounding opposition areas of the divided city of Aleppo since mid-December, intensifying their efforts to gain full control of what is Syria's largest city.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the bombings, and activists said the number of those killed on Monday rose overnight to 27, after a full tally was taken by the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Barrel bombs were also dropped Tuesday over other rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, but it was not immediately clear if there were other casualties.
Associated Press writer Laura Mills in Moscow contributed to this report.
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Politics & Government
- Bashar Assad