Syrian blast at petrol station kills at least 50


AT LEAST 50 Syrians were reported to have been killed and many others wounded by an explosion at a petrol station at Ain Issa village in the loyalist northern Raqqa province yesterday.

Insurgents have opened up a new front in this province in their campaign to topple the government. The opposition local co-ordination committees said warplanes had attacked the station.

The shelling of rebel-infiltrated districts in Homs also continued. In Aleppo city, the Syrian army said it had killed 100 Afghans. Opposition sources said 13 people were killed and 32 wounded at al-Bab, a strategic town on the road between the Turkish border and Aleppo.

Near the town of Douma, north of Damascus, a military helicopter crashed after striking the tail of an airliner which landed safely with 200 people aboard, said state news agency Sana.

Troops swept into the capital’s southern Yarmouk quarter, home to 114,000 Palestinian refugees and 850,000 Syrians, in pursuit of rebel fighters from the neighbouring Hajar al-Aswad district.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Yarmouk said the Syrian army killed 18 Palestinians. West Bank-based PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo accused the troops of committing a massacre. Ten Palestinians were said to have been killed on Wednesday.

Since the revolt began, most Palestinians have tried to remain neutral. However, some community leaders have aligned themselves with the regime while a minority of youngsters have joined the insurgents.

Ali al-Moussawi, media adviser of Iraq’s prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, denied a report that Baghdad was permitting Tehran to “use its airspace to ship arms to Syria”.

He said: “The prime minister has always called for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict and the need for a ban on any state interfering in Syria whether by sending arms or helping others to do so.”

The report, said to have been leaked by a western diplomat, alleges that Iran is flying military personnel and large amounts of material to the government. US senator John Kerry has threat- ened to reconsider Washington’s aid to Iraq if Iranian overflights continue.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that 130,000 Syrian refugees living outside the camps in Jordan are struggling to survive.

A recent influx has put a serious strain on Jordan’s scarce resources, particularly water, and public services.

ICRC aid worker Richard Casagrande told the Guardian that families cannot find accommodation or afford rent, household goods, medicine, and clothing, and need more international support “to meet their basic needs”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said “both sides, government and opposition forces, seem determined to see an end by military means”. He called for “political dialogue reflecting the genuine aspirations and will of the Syrian people”.

Having completed initial consultations in the region, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to return to New York where he will report to Mr Ban and hold talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly – the aim being to devise a strategy for ending the bloodshed.

Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari dismissed allegations that children are the victims of indiscriminate attacks on homes and schools by government forces and denied access to hospitals.

UN special representative for children in conflict Leila Zerrougui also told the security council that rebel groups are recruiting child soldiers.

Diplomats from 60 countries, financial experts, and Syrian dissidents met at The Hague to discuss tightening sanctions against the Syrian regime. The group, dubbed the “Friends of Syria” discussed ways to ratchet up sanctions and track down the hidden assets of both the government and the ruling Assad family. Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal complained that some countries are not implementing sanctions.

More than 29,000 people have been killed in Syria during the 18-month revolt, 20,755 civilians and rebels, 1,148 army defectors and 7,095 soldiers, said the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN put fatalities at 20,000.