WRAPUP 4-Air strike kills dozens of Syrians waiting to buy bread

Erika Solomon
Reuters Middle East

* Activists say large crowd was queuing for bread

* Video shows dozens of dead bodies

* Envoy Brahimi in Damascus for new talks

* Government minister says 'forget' toppling Assad

* More than 180 killed across Syria on Sunday-activists

BEIRUT, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Dozens of people were killed and

many more wounded in a Syrian government air strike that hit a

bakery where a crowd was queuing for bread on Sunday, activists


If confirmed, the attack on Halfaya in central Syria, which

was seized by rebels last week, would be one of the deadliest

air strikes of 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, counted 60 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

al-Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia,

Egypt and elsewhere.

Amid the latest carnage, United Nations-backed crisis

mediator Lakhdar Brahimi arrived for more talks in Syria. He had

to drive from neighbouring Lebanon because fighting around

Damascus International Airport has effectively shut it down.


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 Sunday.

A force of 200 rebel fighters seized the 135 Infantry

Brigade base in the village of Hawa, a mostly Kurdish area in

northern Aleppo province, rebels said on Sunday, as they showed

journalists the base.

After overcoming about 150 soldiers in the raid on Saturday,

they seized weapons including two field guns, three

anti-aircraft guns and dozens of boxes of Kalashnikov assault

rifles, they said.

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 government.

"These military efforts to try to topple the government, of

getting rid of the president, of occupying the capital ...

Forget about 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."

Brahimi, who replaced Kofi Annan after the former U.N. 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.

Western powers and some Arab countries have repeatedly

demanded that Assad step down.


Witness Hamawi said more than 1,000 people had been queuing

at the bakery in the town of Halfaya. Shortages of fuel and

flour have made bread production erratic across the country, and

people often wait hours to buy loaves.

"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."

New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned army 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 video from the attack site, women and children cried and

screamed as men rushed with motorbikes and vans to carry away


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.

One man was seen stopping to pick up half a corpse lying in

the street, wrapping it up in his own jacket and carrying it

away. Residents were using their bare hands to dig for bodies

underneath blocks of concrete.

"Where are the Arabs, where is the world?" shouted one man.

"Look at all of these bodies!"

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