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Airstrike kills dozens of Syrians trying to buy bread, activists say

Handout / Reuters

Free Syrian Army fighters and residents carry the bodies of people killed by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at a bakery in Halfaya, near Hama, Sunday, Dec. 23.

 

BEIRUT, Lebanon --- Dozens of people were killed and many more wounded in an airstrike that hit a Syrian bakery where a large crowd was waiting in line for bread on Sunday, activists said. 

If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest air strikes of Syria's civil war. 

"There is no way to really know yet how many people were killed. When I got there, I could see piles of bodies all over the ground. There were women and children," said Samer al-Hamawi, an activist in the town of Halfaya. "There are also dozens of wounded people."


 


Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said the death toll was still very unclear. 

"From looking at the videos, I expect the death toll to be around or above 50, and not higher than 100. But for now I am keeping my estimate at dozens killed, until we have more information," he said.

Halfaya, in the central province of Hama, had been seized by rebels last week in a push to seize new territory in their 21-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Another activist said residents picking through the bodies were still determining which were wounded and which were dead. 

Hamawi, who spoke via Skype, uploaded a video of the scene that showed dozens of dust-coated bodies lined up near a pile of rubble beside a concrete building with blackened walls.

Screams could be heard in the video as some men rushed to the scene on motorcycles and other residents limped away. Dozens of dead bodies could be seen.

The authenticity of the video could not be immediately verified, as the government restricts access into Syria.

Activists said more than a thousand people had been lined up at the bakery in Halfaya. Shortages of fuel and flour have made bread production erratic across Syria, and bread lines are often hours long.

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

A look back at the violence that has overtaken the country

Activists say more than 44,000 people have been killed in the 21 months since the eruption of anti-Assad protests, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.

Western powers and some Arab countries have repeatedly demanded that Assad step down.

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Mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are fighting on the edge of the capital Damascus and expanding southwards from their northern strongholds in the provinces around Aleppo and Idlib. 

But Assad, who is from the Alawite minority linked to Shi'ite Islam, has branded the rebels as terrorists and responded with artillery, air strikes and - according to NATO, which is stationing anti-missile defenses in neighboring Turkey - with Scud-type missiles. 

Earlier on Sunday, Syria's information minister distanced the government from comments by the vice president that neither the rebels nor Assad's forces could win the civil war. 

The foreign minister of Russia, one of Syria's main allies, said on Saturday that the conflict had reached stalemate, and that Assad would not yield to international efforts to persuade him to quit. 

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