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Air raids in central Syria kill 26: activists

Damaged buildings are pictured in the besieged area of Homs February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Thaer Al Khalidiya
Damaged buildings are pictured in the besieged area of Homs February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Thaer Al Khalidiya

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Air raids on rebel-held towns across Syria killed 26 people on Monday, activists said, two days after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks.

Syria's almost three-year-old conflict has raged on despite peace talks that began in Geneva last month and the passage of the U.N. resolution, a rare moment of unity between the West and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's strongest backer.

Two women and 10 children were among the dead in government air raids on the town of al-Neshabieh, in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, near a railway marking the frontline between Islamist fighters and Assad's forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and in the province of Homs to the north.

"Two simultaneous raids hit Neshabieh first. People were pulling the bodies of a women and her two children from one house when the planes came back and hit the crowed, killing another nine," activist Abu Sakr told Reuters from the area.

He said artillery fire from a battalion based at Damascus airport and the nearby town of Mleiha then hit the town. Fifty people were wounded in the combined bombardment, he said.

Photos taken by activists, purportedly at a field hospital in the area, showed a girl's body covered in a white shroud, and the decapitated bodies of several men. Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.

"We barely managed to take the bodies before the artillery hit," said Abu Abdo, a rescue worker at the field hospital.

In Homs province, activists reported air raids on al-Hosn, a Sunni town near the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers in a valley mostly inhabited by Christians, who have mostly stayed on the sidelines in the conflict between Assad and rebels.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots opposition group, said six people were killed in the attack on al-Hosn. Footage showed the bodies of two people amid the rubble, one of whom was identified as a woman.

CHILDREN KILLED

Another video showed a rocket hitting the densely built-up town, with smoke rising as the sound of a warplane is heard.

In the town of Talbiseh, on Syria's main north-south highway, opposition activists said an air raid killed four children. Footage showed relatives gathered around the bodies, which were wrapped in white and laid on a tiled floor. One man was shown holding the bloodied head of one child and weeping.

On Saturday, Russia and China voted with Western powers for a U.N. resolution that calls for access for humanitarian aid in Syria and threatens "further steps" in case of non-compliance.

The initial text was weakened during negotiations, with references to the International Criminal Court and targeted sanctions removed. But a call for an end to shelling and air raids in populated areas, a demand for cross-border humanitarian access and the naming of besieged areas were included.

The resolution also condemned "terrorist" attacks by al-Qaeda affiliated groups, which have emerged as some of the most formidable anti-Assad groups, and specifically referred to the Syrian military's use of barrel bombs, which human rights groups say are indiscriminate weapons that mainly target civilians.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based pro-opposition monitoring group, said four children had been killed on Monday by barrel bombs that hit the contested northern city of Aleppo, scene of heavy fighting in the last two days.

More than 130,000 people have been killed and millions made homeless since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-Assad protests whose violent suppression ignited an armed insurgency. The civil war has drawn in foreign fighters on both sides and threatens to destabilize Syria's neighbors.

In Damascus, security forces released leftist dissident Akram al-Bunni after abducting him in the city center on Saturday and questioning him about recent articles he had written on politics in Syria, his brother Anwar said.

Akram al-Bunni spent 20 years as a political prisoner under the rule of Assad and his late father Hafez al-Assad.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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