Violence prompts flight from Syrian city

Fighting between rebels and regime forces in Aleppo neighbourhood blamed for scores of deaths and a civilian exodus.

    Fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and regime forces has led to an exodus of residents from the Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern city of Aleppo, according to a watchdog group.

    Violence also engulfed areas in and around Damascus on Sunday, where children were among eight civilians killed in shelling of Kafar Batna village, while a missile struck the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus causing more casualties.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also reported that at least 140 people, including 56 civilians, were killed nationwide on Easter Sunday.

    "The Sheikh Maqsud neighbourhood has seen a major exodus after shells hit the area, destroying several homes," the head of the Britain-based SOHR, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP news agency.

    "Hundreds of cars carrying families were seen leaving the neighbourhood."

    The reports of the deaths came as Pope Francis, speaking in front of some 250,000 people from around the world gathered in Vatican City for Easter Mass, prayed for "dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort.

    "How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?" he asked.

    Strategic position

    Battles have been raging in Sheikh Maqsud, a strategic, predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood, since Friday, as regime troops try to prevent rebels from advancing into the district.

    The battles have killed so far at least 43 people, including 15 civilians, 19 soldiers and pro-regime fighters as well as nine rebels, SOHR said.

    Sheikh Maqsud sits atop a hill, with vantage points over all second city Aleppo and its capture would be a key victory for the rebels, allowing them to target districts still in regime hands.

    On Saturday, SOHR and Syrian state media reported that rebels had killed a pro-government Sunni Muslim religious leader in Sheikh Maqsud, dragging his body through the streets afterwards.

    In other violence on Sunday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported that "armed terrorists groups" has "set fire to three oil wells in the province of Deir Az Zor, after a dispute between them on sharing stolen oil".

    The agency also reported claims that rebels forces were responsible for a "massacre" late on Saturday of at least 10 people in the town of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon, an accusation denied by opposition activists.

    SANA said women and children were among those killed in a "new massacre" in the Burj neighbourhood of Tal Kalakh carried out by "terrorists" - the regime's word of reference for rebels.

    SOHR, quoting activists, gave a toll of 11 dead, including eight women, and said they were "executed during a raid by regime forces in the Burj neighbourhood" of the town.

    In Damascus province, a car bomb exploded at a rebel checkpoint, killing at least five rebel fighters, the group said.

    In another development, Canada's top diplomat pledged a donation of $13m to Jordan to tackle pressing humanitarian and security needs brought on by the Syrian civil war.

    John Baird, foreign affairs minister, praised Jordan's humanitarian assistance and medical care to the more than 470,000 displaced Syrians sheltering in the kingdom, calling it a "model for all".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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