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Syria air force general killed as air strikes pound rebels

world Updated: Oct 30, 2012 20:07 IST

AFP
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A Syrian air force general has been assassinated in Damascus, state television said on Tuesday, as air strikes pounded rebel bastions and fighting raged for control of areas around the capital and in the northwest.

"As part of their campaign to target national personalities and scientists, armed terrorist groups assassinated Air Force General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi in the Damascus district of Rukn al-Din," state television said, using the regime term for armed rebels. It gave no further details.

The general was a member of the Syrian Air Force command, a security source in Damascus told AFP on condition of anonymity. He was shot dead on Monday evening as he left a friend's home, the source added.

News of the killing came after regime warplanes launched their heaviest air strikes to date, with more than 60 raids carried out on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a key watchdog.

It said the campaign continued Tuesday with air raids hitting rebel-held areas in the suburbs of Damascus and the town of Maaret al-Numan, overrun by rebels earlier this month.

It said three children were among four civilians killed in Maaret al-Numan, which is on a key army supply route between Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo. Regime forces have been battling with rebels for weeks for control of the area.

Tuesday also saw clashes between rebel forces and troops backed by Palestinian fighters at the Yarmuk Palestinian camp, home to 148,500 people, near Damascus.

Anwar Raja, spokesman for the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said its forces clashed for about an hour with rebels trying to infiltrate the camp but that there were no casualties.

"Our goal is to prevent the camp from being taken hostage and becoming a battlefield, but there are parties in the armed Syrian opposition who wish to draw us into the maze of Syria's internal crisis," Raja told AFP.

There are more than 510,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria and their leadership is largely supportive of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

At least 25 people, including 16 civilians, were killed in fighting on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

With UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi due in China in a bid to revive struggling peace efforts, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said the international community's failure to halt the fighting was making it complicit in the violence.

"What is happening in Syria is not a civil war but a war of extermination against the Syrian people," he told Al-Jazeera television.

The war, he charged, was being waged "with a licence to kill, endorsed firstly by the Syrian government and secondly by the international community."

On the first day after the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, which saw a bid for a ceasefire collapse amid renewed clashes, car bombings and air strikes, the Observatory said more than 500 people had died in fighting over its four days.

The Britain-based group relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals, and says its tolls take into account civilian, military and rebel casualties.

Brahimi was due in China after on Monday visiting Moscow, where he said the situation in Syria "is bad and getting worse".

Diplomats say Brahimi is to go to the UN Security Council in November with new proposals following his visits to Russia and China -- which have repeatedly vetoed resolutions threatening action against Assad's regime.

Moscow on Monday called for international dialogue with Assad's regime, but the call was rejected by key regional player Turkey.

"There is no point in engaging in dialogue with a regime that continues to carry out such a massacre against its own people, even during Eid al-Adha," Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday.

The uprising, which began in March 2011 as a peaceful movement, has steadily militarised after being met with brutal state repression and has left more than 35,000 people dead, according to rights groups.

Most rebels, like the population, are Sunni Muslims in a country dominated by a minority regime of Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.