Damascus , Syria – Rebels took Syria’s civil war to the ruling Assad clan’s hometown for the first time Saturday, killing four people in a car bomb attack on a hospital, state television and a monitor said. The attack came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that troops had executed 48 people earlier this week in a northern village, among them 10 children.
“A terrorist car bomb attack in the parking of Qardaha hospital killed four citizens and wounded several others,” the television said in a news flash, using the regime term for rebels. Earlier, the Britain-based Observatory had reported the blast, saying it was not immediately clear if it had been caused by a car bomb or by rocket fire.
The blast, the first to hit the heart of the western town since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, killed a nurse, a hospital employee and two soldiers, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. The outskirts of Qardaha have previously come under rocket fire, while Latakia province — where the town is located — has seen several rounds of heavy fighting. A mausoleum containing the graves of President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez, and brother Bassil, is located in Qardaha.
The clan has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than 40 years. Syria’s war began in March 2011 as a pro-democracy revolt seeking Assad’s ouster. It morphed into a conflict after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent. Meanwhile, the Observatory said 10 children and 13 rebels were among 48 people executed by government forces in the northern village of Rityan earlier this week. The killings took place after troops entered the town Tuesday, during an offensive aimed at cutting rebel supply lines to the Turkish border.
Abdel Rahman said all the dead were from six families. “There was no resistance except in one house where a rebel opened fire at troops before being executed along with his family.” The brief seizure of Rityan was part of an abortive army offensive this week to encircle the rebel-held east of Aleppo and relieve two besieged Shiite villages to its north.
By Friday all but one of the villages taken by government forces had been recaptured by the rebels, who include fighters from Al-Qaeda affiliate Al- Nusra Front. The heavy fighting claimed the lives of 129 loyalists and 116 rebels, including an Al- Nusra commander, according to an Observatory toll. While the ground offensive failed, warplanes kept pounding rebel areas of Aleppo city and other parts of the country.
On Saturday, two women and two children were among eight people killed when a barrel bomb hit a building in an opposition-held area of Aleppo city, once Syria’s commercial capital. Five people were also reported killed in rebel shelling of regime-held areas of the city. The air force also killed at least seven people in rebel areas east of Damascus Saturday, the Observatory said
According to the group, they were the latest of more than 7,000 people killed across Syria since the UN Security Council passed a resolution last year ordering an end to sieges and indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas. The Observatory “has documented the killing of 5,812 civilians, including 1,733 children, 969 women and 3,110 men in barrel bombings and (other) air raids” over the past year.
Meanwhile, rebel fire on regime-held areas killed 1,102 people, said the Observatory, adding that 234 of them were children. And 313 people died in areas under army siege in the past year, as a result of food and medical shortages, despite the fact that the resolution also ordered the lifting of sieges.
A monitoring group said on Saturday Syrian government forces and allied militants killed 48 fighters and family members during last week’s offensive against oppositionheld areas in Aleppo province, but the army denied it. “I deny completely such an act that cannot be committed by the Syrian army whose duty is to protect lives and not kill people,” a military source told Reuters. He said armed groups kill residents whom they suspect of being loyal or working with the government and accuse the army of committing the acts.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday the dead were shot mainly in their homes in the village of Raitan on Tuesday shortly after the village fell to the army and loyalist forces including Iranian fighters and members of Lebanese Hezbollah. Five women and 10 children were among those killed, it added.
Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the monitor, said his group confirmed the killings in the village from locals. Reuters could not verify these accounts. Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, is at the forefront of clashes between pro-government forces and a range of insurgents, including Islamist brigades, al-Qaeda’s Syria wing the Nusra Front, and Western backed units.
The affiliation of those killed was not immediately clear. Nearly four years of fighting in Syria has killed at least 200,000 people and forced 10 million from their homes, triggering a humanitarian crisis that shows no sign of ending.
The army made rapid advances in its offensive but met strong resistance and had to withdraw from Raitan and Hardatain, the monitor and rebel groups say. Abdul Rahman said dozens of government forces had been killed and many were captured.
Elsewhere, UN investigators said Friday they were prepared to publish secret lists of alleged war criminals in Syria to help stem an “exponential rise” in atrocities from nearly four years of war. Releasing the lists would put “alleged perpetrators on notice” and could “serve to maximize the potential deterrent effect” and “help to protect people at risk of abuse,” a commission of inquiry said in a new report.