Airstrikes on central Syrian city kill some 50

Diaa Hadid
Associated Press

Beirut — Syrian government airstrikes killed some 50 people in an opposition-held city this week in bombing that apparently sought to target a rebel commander, activists said Wednesday.

The death toll was unusually high, even by the vicious standards of the country's civil war, now in its fourth year. The killed included a mother and her five children, crushed under the rubble, a rebel commander and several fighters in the central city of Talbiseh, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group, which obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground, said it counted 48 killed in two days of strikes on Monday and Tuesday.

Similar information was reported by a local Talbiseh activist collective.

Both groups said the death toll was likely to exceed 50 as residents were still pulling out bodies from the rubble.

"Residents woke up from the massacre yesterday only to witness another terrifying massacre," said the local collective in a Facebook update, describing Talbiseh as a "destroyed" city "filled with civilians and displaced who cannot find bread to eat, chased by the shelling of regime forces."

Videos uploaded of the aftermath showed a man weeping as he clutched his lifeless baby boy, and residents praying over the shroud-wrapped bodies of a mother and her five children. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to The Associated Press' reporting of the event.

State-run media said Tuesday that the army targeted a meeting of "terrorists," the term they use to refer to armed rebels. The Observatory said that leading members of a rebel group were killed, but didn't identify which one.

One rebel group, which identified itself as the Iman Bil-Lah faction, uploaded videos of its rebels operating in Talbiseh. The footage showed scrappy men firing mortars toward the nearby government-held city of Homs and heavy machine guns at Syrian aircraft. An unseen narrator on the video said the firing was in response to the airstrikes.

The group describes itself as part of the Free Syrian Army, a byword for a chaotic mix of more moderate rebel groups that seek Western support and arms.

The United Nations says that more than 190,000 people have been killed since the 2011 start of Syria's conflict, which has transformed into a multilayered civil war.