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Published: Monday, 12/24/2012

Syrian airstrike kills dozens as peace envoy starts visit

Attack believed response to new rebel push

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Free Syrian Army fighters walk amid the ruins of a village situated a short distance from an area where fighting between rebels and government forces continues. Free Syrian Army fighters walk amid the ruins of a village situated a short distance from an area where fighting between rebels and government forces continues.
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BEIRUT — A government airstrike on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people on Sunday, activists said. The attack cast a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country’s civil war.

The strike on the town of Halfaya left bodies and debris along a street.

The attack appeared to be the government’s response to a newly announced rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and villages north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area’s towns to be liberated by rebel fighters, and activists considered Sunday’s attack a payback.

The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was more than 60. That number is expected to rise, it said, because 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.

It was unclear from videos if the building was in fact a bakery. Nearly all the dead and wounded appeared to be men and some wore camouflage, raising the possibility that the jet had targeted a rebel gathering.

The airstrike coincided with the start of a two-day visit by Lakhdar Barhimi, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, to meet with Syrian officials. He has made little progress, because the sides appear more interested in fighting.

Instead of flying directly to Syria as he had on previous visits, Mr. Brahimi landed in Beirut and traveled to the Syrian capital by land because of fighting near the Damascus airport, Lebanese officials said.

The Lebanese officials said Mr. Brahimi was expected to meet Syria’s foreign minister later Sunday and President Bashar Assad today.

Although not advancing a comprehensive peace plan, Mr. Brahimi has called on the sides to negotiate a solution.



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