Syria Activists: Government Air Strikes Kill Dozens

Posted December 23rd, 2012 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say government air strikes have killed dozens of people in rebel-held areas of the country, as international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi began another visit to Damascus to try to resolve Syria's civil war.

Local activists said government warplanes hit a bakery in the central town of Halfaya in Hama province on Sunday, killing and wounding dozens of residents. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes also attacked the northern town of al-Safira in Aleppo province, killing at least 13 people. The town is home to a large Syrian military complex that rebels have been trying to seize.

Activist videos posted online showed more air strikes on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, as government forces try to drive rebels away from the seat of power of President Bashar al-Assad.

Brahimi traveled to the Syrian capital by car from Lebanon after flying into Beirut airport earlier in the day. Brahimi has flown directly to Damascus on previous visits, but fighting near the city's airport has intensified in recent weeks, paralyzing the facility. He made no comments to reporters as he stepped into the Damascus Sheraton Hotel.

Lebanese airport officials said the U.N.-Arab League envoy was expected to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a Damascus news conference that the government remains open to resolving the conflict through dialogue, but he warned the rebels and their supporters that “time is running out” for such a process.

Rebels and exiled Syrian opposition groups have refused to negotiate with Mr. Assad, demanding instead that he step down from his 12-year rule. More than 40,000 people have been killed since the Syrian president began a violent crackdown on what began as a peaceful opposition uprising in March 2011.

Western powers and their Arab allies have repeatedly called for the departure of Mr. Assad, whose few remaining allies include Russia, Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In recent days, Moscow's support for Mr. Assad has slipped, with Russian officials saying they will not stand by him at any price and will welcome any foreign offers to grant him safe passage into exile.