Syrian warplanes ‘target crowded market’

Airstrikes kill at least 30 people in village of Atareb in Aleppo province, activist group says.

Syrian warplanes have killed 30 people in a raid on a village market, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime nears the completion of surrendering its chemical weapons stockpile.

The air raid on the Aleppo provincial village of Atareb, where the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that three children were among the dead, came amid an aerial offensive on Aleppo’s rebel areas that began in mid-December.

The campaign has killed hundreds of people, mostly civilians, and forced thousands of families to flee.

Aleppo-based activist Abu Omar said that a market area was hit and “that’s why there were so many civilians killed”.

“The regime is hitting back against the civilians who support the revolt” against Assad, news agency AFP reported.

Activists distributed amateur video footage showing chaotic scenes, with bodies lying among mounds of rubble.

Stockpile handover 

The joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN team charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal said 92.5 percent of the stockpile had been surrendered.

Damascus had pledged to have all of its stockpile removed from Syria by Sunday, with the weapons due to be destroyed by June 30.

On Wednesday, UN Security Council members called for a probe into new claims of a chlorine gas attack in a rebel bastion, the AFP news agency reported.

Nigeria’s ambassador Joy Ogwu, who holds the council’s rotating presidency, said there was concern over reports of chlorine gas killing and injuring several people and called for an investigation.

There have been conflicting accounts of an alleged chlorine attack on opposition-held Kafr Zita, with the government and the opposition trading blame.

While the final destruction of the stockpile appears imminent, analysts were raising the matter of production sites.

Sico van der Meer of the Clingendael Institute, a Netherlands-based think-tank, said: “They will complete the removal, but the question of production sites is still there”.

Damascus wants to seal the sites, which it says have been rendered unusable, but Western countries want them completely destroyed, fearing they could be re-activated.

“Syria is playing for time. As long as the process of destroying its chemical weapons is under way, the international community is not going to bother it too much,” Van der Meer said.

Despite the violence, the regime plans a presidential election on June 3 that is expected to return Assad to office.

On Thursday, regime-tolerated opponent Hassan Abdullah al-Nuri became the second candidate to register his candidacy, a day after independent MP Maher al-Hajjar did so.

Food aid distributed

Meanwhile, 22 rebel and Al-Nusra Front fighters were killed in a battle in Daraa province, as they seized from army control a strategic hilltop overlooking besieged Nawa town, said the Observatory.

The group also said an unknown number of government troops were taken prisoner or killed.

Abu Anas, an activist in the southern province, told AFP: “The army had been using the hilltop to shell many parts of Daraa.”

In southern Damascus, the UN was allowed to distribute 300 parcels of food aid in besieged Yarmouk, after a 15-day hiatus, UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said.

More than 100 people have died in the past year from food and medical shortages in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp.

However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said access for foreign aid for millions of Syrians desperately in need has not improved overall, violating a Security Council resolution passed two months ago.

Almost 3.5 million people remain without access to essential goods and services, including life-saving medicines, in a “clear violation” of international law, said Ban. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies