A Syrian warplane has destroyed a petrol station near Damascus, killing and wounding dozens of people and igniting a huge fire in what could be one of the bloodiest attacks in weeks during the 22-month civil war.
Activists on Wednesday said a single Russian-built MiG fighter fired a missile that hit the station, setting off an inferno in the eastern suburb of Mleiha. Black smoke was seen billowing from the site.
An amateur video posted online showed charred bodies and gruesome carnage at the scene.
Mohammed Saeed, an activist who visited the area, said the missile struck as drivers waited in line with their cars at the station.
Syria has been facing a fuel crisis, and people often wait for hours to get petrol.
“Many of the people who were there were killed,” Saeed said via Skype. “Body parts could be seen on the ground”.
He said the missile fired by the plane caused a crater a metre deep.
An amateur video showed several vehicles on fire and a cloud of smoke rising into the air.
It was unclear why the Syrian military targeted the petrol station. There have been clashes and shelling in nearby areas in the past days.
Saeed said there were two other air raids in the nearby suburbs of Maadamiyeh and Deir al-Asafir.
“Since yesterday the raids have been very intense,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the country’s northwest, fierce fighting has resumed between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and opposition fighters after rebels attacked regime troops stationed around an airbase in Idlib province, a human rights watchdog says.
Wednesday’s clashes between rebel fighters and Assad’s forces at the Afis military airport near the main Aleppo-Damascus highway killed four armed men and an unknown number of soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The UK-based monitoring group said Syrian rebels fired machine guns and mortars at helicopters grounded at the base.
The rebel assault came after authorities announced the temporary closure of the international airport in Aleppo province on Tuesday, after days of attacks there by the rebels who hold large swathes of territory in northern Syria.
A local resident told the AFP news agency that the army was carrying out air raids around the Taftanaz base in an attempt to repel the multi-pronged attack.
Fighting also broke out around the crucial Wadi Deif base, one of the last regime bastions in the northwest, the Britain-based observatory said, in a fresh bid to wrest control of the strategic post.
Rebels captured the nearby town of Maaret al-Numan, located on the important Damascus-Aleppo highway, in October.
Regime warplanes also bombed the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of the capital, killing at least 12 members of the same family, most of them children, the watchdog said.
Warplanes also attacked the towns of Shebaa to the southeast and Deir Assafir south of Damascus, where 11 children were killed in November when cluster bombs were dropped on a playground, according to Human Rights Watch.
The deadly strikes came as forces loyal to Assad battled rebels with artillery fire in Harasta and Douma, rebel strongholds to the northeast of the capital, and in Daraya to the southwest.
Army reinforcements have been massing for weeks in Daraya in a bid to drive rebel Free Syrian Army fighters from the town, the site of the bloodiest massacre of the conflict in which hundreds died in August.
Northeast of Damascus, the army shelled Qaboon district, the observatory said, while in the south, residents of a Palestinian refugee camp that faced deadly air raids in December, fled once again amid mortar attacks.
The UN on Wednesday said more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011.