Dozens of people were killed and many more wounded in a Syrian government air
strike that hit a bakery where a crowd was lining up for bread on Sunday,
If confirmed, the attack in the central Syrian town of
Halfaya, which was seized by rebels last week, would be one of the deadliest air
strikes in Syria’s civil war.
Videos uploaded by activists showed dozens
of bloodstained corpses lying amid rubble and shrapnel. An adolescent boy with
both his feet blown off lay flailing in the middle of a road.
“When I got
there, I could see piles of bodies all over the ground. There were women and
children,” said Samer al- Hamawi, an activist in the town. “There are also
dozens of wounded people.”
Residents of Halfaya told Reuters they
estimated 90 dead.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a
British-based group with a network of activists across Syria, said that 60
people were killed.
“The number is likely to rise because there are
dozens of wounded being treated in the area and nearby hospitals, among them 50
in critical condition,” it said.
Activists say more than 44,000 people
have been killed in the 21 months since protests erupted against President
Bashar Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and
Hamawi, who witnessed the air strike, said more than 1,000
people had been queuing at the bakery. Shortages of fuel and flour have made
bread production erratic across the country, and people often wait hours to buy
“We hadn’t received flour in around three days so everyone was
going to the bakery today, and lots of them were women and children,” Hamawi
said. “I still don’t know yet if my relatives are among the dead.”
York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the Assad government’s air strikes on
bakeries earlier this year, arguing that in some incidents the Syrian military
was not using enough precision to target rebel sites, and in other instances it
may have intentionally hit civilians.
In videos from the attack site,
women and children cried and screamed as men rushed with motorbikes and vans to
carry away victims.
There was no independent media access to the scene,
as the government restricts press access in Syria.
In one video, the
cameraman could be heard sobbing as he filmed.
“God is great, God is
great. It was a war plane, a war plane,” he cried.
Israel, in cooperation
with the US and others in the international community, is meanwhile preparing
for the possibility of far-reaching changes in the Syrian regime, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
The prime minister, speaking at the
outset of the weekly cabinet meeting, said those changes could have
“implications” for the “sensitive weapons systems there.” Israel has in recent
weeks expressed its serious concern about how changes in Syria will impact upon Damascus’s huge
stockpile of chemical weapons, and how these weapons could become a part of the
Netanyahu told the cabinet there were “dramatic
developments” in Syria now “about every day.”
Israel has increasingly
been relaying the message to all actors in Syria that the fate of the chemical
weapons is a “very sensitive issue” not only for Israel, but for the entire
Jerusalem is concerned that either Hezbollah or
some other terrorist organization could lay its hands on these weapons as Syria
descends into further chaos and anarchy.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov attempted to calm nerves regarding the chemical weapons
stockpile, saying that “as of right now” the Syrian government “is doing all it
can to safeguard these weapons.” He said Russia was “following all leads
concerning chemical weapons.”
In addition, Lavrov stated that Russia had
no intention of sheltering Assad if he were to flee from Syria, but added that
“if there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!”
Earlier this month, a few Western countries expressed concern that the Assad’s
beleaguered regime might be preparing the use of chemical weapons to fight the
Last week, reflecting Israel’s worries, Netanyahu told visiting
Texas senatorelect Ted Cruz that Israel was very closely consulting and
coordinating with the US regarding the possibility of the use of these
On Sunday, Al-Manar, a Lebanese website affiliated with
Iranian-backed Hezbollah, quoted the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin
Mehmanparast, in what could be perceived as a threat to the West, as saying that
“a military solution is not an appropriate settlement for Syria” and that “if
the Syrian crisis intensifies and the Western countries interfere, the conflict
would not be confined to Syria.”
And as if to counter the chemical
weapons reports referring to Assad’s forces, Iranian Press TV reported that
Syria’s rebels were using chemical weapons against the army.
Amos Gilad, the director of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic and security
bureau, said on Army Radio Sunday that “at the moment” the chemical weapons in
Syria “are under control.”
Gilad went on to warn that if Assad does leave
Syria, as some have speculated, there “could be chaos” because “in the Middle
East, you never know who will fill the power vacuum.”
In defiant remarks,
Syrian Information Minister Umran Ahid al-Za’bi said rebels and their foreign
allies should “forget” trying to topple Assad.
He appeared to move away
from the conciliatory tone of the Syrian vice president, who said last week that
neither side could win the war and called for a national unity
“These military efforts to try to topple the government, of
getting rid of the president, of occupying the capital....
this,” al-Za’bi told a news conference in Damascus.
“I have general
advice to those political powers that reject dialogue: Time is getting short.
Hurry and move on to working on a political solution.”
Amid the latest
carnage in Syria, United Nations-backed crisis mediator Lakhdar Brahimi arrived
for more talks in the country. He had to drive from neighboring Lebanon because
fighting around Damascus International Airport has effectively shut it
The uprising has grown into civil war, with death tolls regularly
topping 100 people a day as the army hits back at rebels who have made a string
of advances across the country, including around the capital. According to the
Observatory, more than 180 Syrians, civilians and fighters, died on
Brahimi, who replaced Kofi Annan after the former UN chief failed
to get Assad and world powers to agree on a way to end the conflict, was
expected to meet the president on Monday.
Sunday’s attack on the bakery
comes nearly a week after another major attack that took place at the Yarmouk
Palestinian refugee camp, when a fighter jet bombed a mosque, killing 25. Around
100,000 Palestinians have reportedly fled the camp with some crossing into
Israel has found itself allied with the
Western-backed Arab states against the Iran-Syria axis. This was illustrated by
a strongly worded editorial by Tariq Alhomayed in Al-sharq Al-awsat, who
sarcastically asked why those who claim to be the foremost defenders of the
Palestinian cause [Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria] are the ones “bombing the
Palestinians today with warplanes.” He goes on to claim their hypocrisy stating,
“Yet we do not see Hassan Nasrallah coming out publicly to warn Assad against
targeting the Palestinians, nor do we see Iranian leaders coming out to say
anything, so is spilling the blood of the Palestinians halal [religiously
permissible] for Assad and only haram [religiously impermissible] for Israel?”
As if to push back against this criticism, Iran announced on Saturday that it
was going to send humanitarian aid to Syria’s Palestinians.