Syrian government aircraft have dropped barrels packed with explosives on opposition-held areas of the contested northern city of Aleppo, levelling buildings, incinerating cars and killing at least 37 people including 16 children, activists said.
Aleppo has been a major front in the Syrian civil war since rebels launched an offensive on the city in mid-2012. Nearly a year and a half of fighting has destroyed much of the city, while also cutting it up into rebel-held and government-controlled areas.
On Sunday (local time), government helicopters pounded the opposition neighbourhoods of Haidariya, Ard al-Hamra, Sukhour, Marjeh and at least two others with barrel bombs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said Syrian air force jets were also flying sorties over the same districts.
The government frequently uses barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of kilograms of explosives and cause massive damage on impact.
The Aleppo Media Centre activist group said government aircraft dropped at least 25 barrel bombs on the city on Sunday.
One amateur video provided by the AMC showed the aftermath of a strike on a roundabout in Haidariya where an informal station for transport vans was located. In the video, residents investigate the smoldering wreckage of at least three vehicles destroyed in the bombing. Sirens wail in the background.
Another amateur video posted online showed the aftermath of a strike on Sukhour. The footage shows a crowd gathered in a narrow street littered with shattered masonry and other rubble from a house that appeared to have been hit by the airstrike.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting.
The Observatory, which monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground, also said the number people killed in the town of Adra northeast of Damascus after an al Qaeda-linked rebel faction attacked on Wednesday has risen to 32.
Abdurrahman said the dead are primarily members the Alawite sect, as well as a few Druse and Shiite Muslims.
The killings point at the dark sectarian overtones the conflict has taken on since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began with largely peaceful protests in March 2011.
Assad is an Alawite, and members of the offshoot of Shiite Islam form the core of his security forces. Other minorities in the country, including Christians, Druse and Shiites, have mostly sided with Assad or remained on the fence, fearing a takeover of the country by Islamic extremists. The rebels, meanwhile, are primarily Sunni Muslims.
The Observatory and Syria's SANA state news agency both reported fighting in Adra on Sunday.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS TRANSFER
Italy has agreed to provide a port for use in the transfer of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal between ships on the way to its destruction at sea, its Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Syria is due to hand over deadly toxins which can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other lethal agents under an international agreement forged in the wake of an attack on the outskirts of Damascus which killed hundreds last August.
Danish and Norwegian ships will collect the toxic arsenal from the Syrian port city of Latakia. The chemicals will be destroyed at sea on board a specially adapted US ship because they are too dangerous to import into a country.
Until now, it was not clear how the containers of chemicals could be transferred from the Scandinavian ships onto the US vessel.
An Italian Foreign Ministry official said the use of the port was the maximum role Italy was prepared to serve in the operation, and that the chemicals would not touch Italian territory at any point.
The official would not identify which port would be used.
Syria's 2-1/2-year civil war has killed at least 125,835 people, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and more than 2 million refugees have fled, often overwhelming neighbouring countries.