Syria Rebels in Push to Seize Northern Airports, 160 Dead Nationwideإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Furious combat raged around the main airport and a military airbase in northern Syria on Thursday, a day after the United Nations gave a staggering toll of 60,000 dead in the 21-month civil war.
Insurgents besieged troops on the perimeter of Aleppo's international airport and around Taftanaz airbase in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The airport in Aleppo, the hard fought-over main city in northern Syria, has been closed since Tuesday after repeated attacks by rebels, according to an airport official.
Hundreds of fighters from two hardline Islamist rebel groups, the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, battled soldiers around the Taftanaz airbase, the Britain-based Observatory said as regime warplanes pounded rebel positions.
The rebels had remotely detonated a bomb at one of the base's gates the day before but were pushed back by the army, according to both the Observatory and a military source inside the airbase.
The military source told Agence France Presse that clashes outside Taftanaz had been non-stop for more than 48 hours and there had been a large number of rebel casualties.
Three rebels were also killed by troops around the Deir Ezzor military airport, as fighting broke out in the provincial capital in the east of the country.
In the town of Mleha, just east of Damascus, bodies were being recovered from a service station hit by a regime air strike on Wednesday.
The Observatory said at least 12 bodies were recovered, several of them rebels. The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists, estimated that at least 50 people died in the attack.
The Observatory said 160 people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, including 72 civilians, almost half of whom were women and children, a day after 219 died nationwide.
Meanwhile, a 33-truck aid convoy organized by Turkish and Qatari relief groups left Istanbul on Thursday carrying 850 tonnes of flour.
"Assad's regime is bombing the bakeries and there is a very huge need for flour in Syria," Huseyin Oruc, the vice-president of Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, said.
The overall estimated death toll of 60,000 in the Syria conflict has unsettled observers.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday called it "truly shocking" as she revealed a vetted U.N. tally nearly a third higher than that previously compiled by the Observatory.
"The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking," she said.
"Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," Pillay added.
The average number of deaths recorded in recent months was five times that registered mid-2011, reflecting intensifying viciousness and an increased resort by the government to air strikes.
Pillay said that "this massive loss of life could have been avoided" if the government of President Bashar Assad had not chosen the "ruthless suppression" of what initially were peaceful protests.
Karim Bitar, an analyst at the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, was skeptical that the new U.N. toll would have a political impact, however.
"The world has become unfortunately so toughened to these figures, sort of anesthetized. There is this terrible Stalin quote: 'One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic'," he said.