GOVERNMENT air raids in a north-western town in Syria and a subsequent crash by a Syrian warplane that slammed into a residential area have killed at least 27 people, activists said.
The raids on the town of Ariha came amid intense clashes between government forces and insurgents in the north-west province of Idlib and central Hama. The town, once a government stronghold, was captured by opposition fighters and Islamic militants in May. Government forces have suffered setbacks in Idlib since March, including the loss of the provincial capital of the same name.
An activist group known as the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) said the warplane crashed in a busy market. It said it was not clear if it had been shot down. The LCC said 27 people were killed and many others wounded.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said the plane crashed in the town centre, destroying several homes. The Observatory later said 31 people were killed and more than 60 wounded.
The Ariha Today Facebook page posted a photo showing at least seven buildings reduced to rubble on a narrow street. It said 27 people died but that 12 had not yet been identified yet.
The group also listed 55 wounded, including nine women. The discrepancies in the different casualty figures reported could not be reconciled.
The Observatory and the LCC said that at the time of the crash, the town was under attack by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s air force.
An amateur video posted online by activists showed several damaged buildings, as well as parts of the plane that crashed. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other reports of the events.
“The plane had dropped a bomb on the main bazaar street at low altitude only seconds before it crashed,” Ghazal Abdullah, a resident close to the incident.
Syria’s civil war began in March 2011. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said last week that at least 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict so far.
In January Syrian officials said at least 35 soldiers were killed in a cargo plane crash in Idlib province.
State media blamed that crash on “weather conditions and heavy fog”, but al-Nusra rebels, linked to al-Qaeda, said they had shot down the cargo plane.
Government forces have been fighting rebels in mountainous parts of Latakia, the heartland of Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, trying to prevent them reaching key coastal areas.
Speaking on Monday in Qatar at a meeting with the Gulf Co-operation Council, US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Mr Assad’s government for Syria’s current militant insurgency, saying the “regime lost legitimacy long ago, in part because of its brutality against the Syrian people themselves”.
Mr Kerry said US policy on Syria remained clear – “to support the moderate Syrian opposition and remain relentless in our mission to eliminate the safe haven [Islamic State] has found in Syria”.