At least 54 people have been killed when a jet fighter blew up a fuel station amid heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in northern Syria, a British-based monitoring group has said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across Syria reporting on government violence during the 18-month-old revolt, cited an activist in al-Riqqa province as saying on Thursday.
“The petrol station is the only one that is still open to customers in the area, and it was packed,” a media activist who identified himself as Abu Muawiya told the AFP news agency via Skype.
“It was hit by a fighter jet. The only reason why it would strike the petrol station with a jet is to kill the highest number of people possible,” he said.
A video published by activists, said to be from al-Riqqa, showed black clouds of smoke rising from the wreckage of the petrol station as residents examined the scene after the attack by an air force jet.
Government forces shelled rebels near a border crossing with Turkey about 30km away on the northern fringes of
al-Riqqa, a day after it was seized by the opposition fighters.
It was impossible to verify the claim due to state restrictions on the media.
Palestinian camp shelled
Meanwhile, Syrian armed forces have shelled al-Hajar al-Aswad and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the capital Damascus, according to pro-state media reports.
|Syrian forces have raided Palestinian camp in Damascus|
Addounia TV reported that the Syrian army had also carried out hundreds of arrests on Thursday of what it called “terrorists” at al-Talnaa garden and al-Waseem mosque in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
The Syrian government uses the term “terrorists” as a reference to members of the armed opposition who are fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
In a separate incident, state media blamed a helicopter gunship crash on an accident although monitors said rebels shot it down.
The military helicopter that went down outside Damascus crashed after an accident with a civilian aircraft, state television said.
“This morning’s helicopter crash resulted from an accident in the air when the helicopter’s rotor clipped the tail of a Syrian Air plane carrying 200 passengers,” it said.
It cited air traffic controllers at Damascus airport and Syrian Air as saying the airliner landed safely.
Earlier, the SOHR reported the helicopter had been downed by rebels following a series of explosions in the restive town of Douma, northeast of the capital.
The latest developments came amid criticism by Syrian ambassador to the UN of a report that said his country’s forces were guilty of committing violence against children caught up in the 18-month uprising.
Ambassador Bashar Jaafari called the allegations made in the report hostile propaganda, and said armed groups were violating the rights of children, not the government.
“We would also have preferred for the Special Representative for the Secretary General to include in the paragraphs addressing the Syrian Arab Republic the acts that have been perpetrated by armed terrorist groups that have been sustained and financed by foreign parties,” Jaafari said on Wednesday.
“These groups have destroyed more than 2,600 schools and kindergartens. They have also targeted health centres.
“It is these armed groups who are violating the rights of Syria’s children.”
As new diplomatic efforts are made outside the country, the violence within Syria rages on, with activists reporting renewed shelling in al-Bab town in Aleppo province and more fighting in Douma, a battleground town near Damascus, the capital.
Meanwhile, Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said that his country had held talks with Syrian opposition groups, according to a transcript of an interview released by the UK’s Financial Times.
In the interview, published on Wednesday, Larijani said according to reports he received there was contact with the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria “to bring about peace and to support necessary reforms”.
It was unclear when the discussions, held in Tehran, took place or whether they yielded any progress.
Larijani described the Syrian opposition as “multi-layered,” without a unified leader. “They have various intentions and opinions,” he told the newspaper.