BEIRUT – Syrian military helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives in the government’s latest air raids on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 23 people including a family trapped in a burning car, activists said.
In neighboring Lebanon, a car bomb blew up near a gas station in a Shiite town, killing at least three people, in the latest attack linked to the war in neighboring Syria.
Footage on al-Manar television, associated with the Shiite group Hezbollah, showed a bright orange blaze as black silhouettes of people ran by the gas station in the northeastern town of Hermel that lies near the Syrian border. Blasts could be heard in the background. The Lebanese Red Cross said another 18 people were wounded. The organization initially reported that four people were killed, but later revised the number downwards.
The large blast occurred near a school for impoverished and orphaned children. None were injured, officials said.
It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Lebanon’s Shiite community, as Syria’s violence causes neighboring Lebanon’s sectarian tensions to escalate into outright violence.
Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for a relentless series of attacks on Shiite parts of Lebanon, including a bomb that exploded in Hermel in late January. They say it is in retaliation for the Shiite Hezbollah group sending its fighters into Syria’s civil war to support forces of President Bashar Assad.
Lebanon’s Sunni community has also been hit, most notably by a deadly double car bombing outside Sunni mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in August.
In Aleppo, the raids with barrel bombs, as the crude weapons are known, have flattened residential buildings, forcing defenders to flee and allowing government troops to advance.
The latest attacks killed 13 people in the al-Bab area of Aleppo, Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center said via Skype. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights corroborated the information.
The blasts badly damaged buildings and caused a fuel tanker to explode, setting nearby vehicles alight, including one carrying a family of eight who were trying to flee the area as they heard the approaching helicopters, said Abu Faisal.
A video showed men dragging a charred victim out of a smashed building.
“You want a political solution? Here is a political solution!” shouted one man as he pointed at two charred bodies on the rubble-strewn ground.
The man was referring to last week’s conference in Switzerland between government officials and opposition activists seeking to resolve Syria’s war, which began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 against Assad.
The conference did not produce any tangible results, but is likely to lead to backdoor negotiations.
Other barrel bombings in Aleppo killed three people near a mosque and another seven people in the Ansari quarter, activists said.
Ansari is frequently hit. On Friday, activists uploaded a video of what they said was a child being pulled alive from the rubble after shelling there. Scenes of civilians and firefighters pulling out dusty, bloodied bodies from under the rubble have become more frequent as the bombing continues.
The footage appeared authentic and reflected Associated Press reporting of the event.
The barrel bombing in Aleppo comes as Syrian government forces try retake the city, which has been divided into government- and opposition-held areas since mid-2012.
Over the past few weeks, government troops have fought their way to two rebel-held neighborhoods of Karam Tarrad and Karam Qaser, mostly by flattening residential buildings with barrel bombs, activists said.
Syrian troops have also taken advantage of infighting between a loose alliance of rebel brigades against an al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which is widely despised by other rebel groups and activists.
On Saturday, militants of the Islamic State carried out a twin suicide car bombing near a rival Islamic brigade near Aleppo, killing at least seven people, the Observatory said.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 136,000 people, in the latest count by the Britain-based Observatory, which tracks the missing and killed through a network of informants on the ground.
The war has also forcibly displaced one-third of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million.
Tens of thousands more are blockaded in rebel-held areas.
They include the Yarmouk area on the southern edge of Damascus, where Assad loyalists have steadily intensified a blockade over the past year. Activists say this has led to the deaths of over 80 people from hunger-related illnesses or from a lack of medical aid.
Over the past two days, aid workers distributed 2,014 food parcels, each meant to feed a family for 10 days. The U.N. estimates there are at least 18,000 people in Yarmouk.
On Saturday, aid workers continued the distribution, handing over another 480 parcels by the afternoon, said U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness.
The spokesman said it was not enough to cover the needs of Yarmouk’s residents.
Footage carried by Lebanese al-Mayadeen television showed hundreds of men and women, many with faces shrunken by malnutrition, desperately jostling to reach the distribution point.
“These tense scenes attest to the profound levels of need that pertain in a camp that has been besieged for months,” Gunness said.
With additional reporting by Albert Aji in Damascus. Follow Hadid on twitter.com/diaahadid