Fighting across Syria as last U.N. monitors leave

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Veteran Japanese war correspondent Mika Yamamoto was killed on Monday, becoming the first foreign journalist to die in Aleppo since clashes between rebels and regime forces erupted there almost a month ago.

Rebels have said she was killed by regime forces. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said she was hit by gunfire while traveling with rebels from the Free Syrian Army.

Mekdad said Yamamoto was killed by “armed groups” to frame the Syrian army.

Fighting raged, meanwhile, in al-Bukamal, which is located across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim. The border crossing has been in rebel hands since last month, but wresting control of al-Bukamal itself from regime troops would expand the opposition foothold along the frontier.

The opposition already controls a wide swath of territory along the border with Turkey in the north, as well as pockets along the frontier with Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west, which has proven key in ferrying people and material into and out of the country.

Rebels have been fighting troops for days in al-Bukamal, but early Thursday took over several checkpoints, the main police station and the local command of the Political Security Directorate, one of Syria’s powerful intelligence agencies, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory.

“There is an attempt to take full control of al-Bukamal,” Abdul-Rahman said.

The Local Coordination Committees said warplanes bombed al-Bukamal, but Abdul-Rahman said the jets were flying over the town and struck nearby areas, not the town itself.

Abu-Omar al-Deery, an activist in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, said by telephone that there are “fierce battles” in al-Bukamal and that “the Free Syrian Army is trying to liberate and clean the city.”

At least six people were killed, activists said.

The main battle fronts over the past month have been in the capital, Damascus, as well as Aleppo, where regime forces have struggled to stamp out a rebel offensive that began last month and succeeded in capturing several neighborhoods in the city of 3 million people.

In a report released Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International said artillery, mortar fire and airstrikes by government forces in Aleppo are killing mostly civilians, including children. It said air and artillery strikes against residential neighborhoods are indiscriminate attacks that seriously endanger civilians.

Amnesty said that during a 10-day fact-finding visit to Aleppo in the first half of August, Amnesty investigated some 30 attacks in which more than 80 civilians were killed and many more were injured.

Amnesty said that among the dead were 10 members of one family, seven of them children. Their home was destroyed in two airstrikes on Aug. 6. It said bodies of mostly young men, most of them handcuffed and shot in the head, have been frequently found near the local headquarters of the powerful Air Force Intelligence, which is in a government-controlled area.

The uprising against Assad’s regime began with largely peaceful protests but has since morphed into a civil war that has spread to almost all areas of the country.

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