BEIRUT, Lebanon – A Syrian warplane was reported to have conducted airstrikes that killed dozens of people lined up for bread at a bakery in the central town of Hilfaya, according to antigovernment activists in the area.
The attack, and its toll, could not immediately be confirmed. Samer, a local activist in the town, said he ran to the bakery soon after he heard a warplane, followed by bomb explosions and finally the sound of ambulances. “There were bodies everywhere,” he said, adding that he saw tens of bodies taken away in cars.
Photographs he said he took at the bakery showed bodies in a heap on a bloody sidewalk outside a low-slung building that was blackened with soot and stained with patches of blood, high on the walls. Amateur video showing what activists said was the aftermath of the attack showed roughly a dozen people lying on the ground, some wounded and several apparently dead.
In one of Samer’s photograph, a man stared in shock at the scene, with his hands resting on his head, while another carried body parts. Bystanders searched for survivors under rubble from the building. Another man picked up a piece of bread, lying next to someone’s slippers.
The reason for the attack was unclear, but activists said that rebel fighters occupied Hilfaya last week as part of a broader offensive to seize territory around the city of Hama, where the government has kept tight control after suppressing protests in the city last year.
Civilians have been caught between the two sides. On Friday, rebel fighters posted a video threatening to attack Christian villages with artillery while asserting that the residents were shielding government loyalists. In the last few days, Hilfaya has come under repeated shelling from loyalist positions in a neighboring village, activists said.
The bakery was one of three in the city. When word spread on Sunday that a flour shipment from Turkey had come in, people began lining up around noon, waiting for their turn at its windows for bread after a stretch of days when the bakeries had been idled. At least three bombs fell near the bakery, Samer and other activists said.
The attack came as the international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in the capital, Damascus, where he was expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. His visit had been rumored but not previously announced, signaling concerns about security as the fighting between opposition fighters and the government intensified in the capital.
Mr. Brahimi made no public comment on Sunday, and the Syrian information minister said during a news conference that he had no knowledge of the envoy’s visit. Mr. Brahimi traveled by land from Beirut because of fighting between the rebels and government forces near the Damascus airport, Lebanese airport officials told The Associated Press.
His visit was likely to add fuel to the speculation about a deal to remove Mr. Assad from power. Rebel forces have claimed gains near government strongholds, and international aid agencies are warning of a growing humanitarian crisis in the winter months.
Russia, one of Syria’s most reliable allies, has recently sent signals that it is distancing itself from the Syrian president. On Saturday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said several countries in the region had offered Mr. Assad asylum, while adding that Moscow was not willing to mediate on their behalf.
Source: The NY Times