Syria's bloody civil war taking back seat to IS horrors

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BEIRUT (AP) — The world may be gripped by the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State group, but a wider bloodbath provoked by Syria's civil war is continuing unabated, with several hundred people killed in the past week alone.

Syrian opposition activists said Friday that the government has increased airstrikes against their strongholds in recent days in hopes of wearing out rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

Among the latest casualties were at least 25 civilians killed Thursday night when army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs into a crowded square in the northern city of Aleppo. Many victims were sitting on a public bus, while others were waiting to collect water from a tanker, when the "barrels of death" — as the crude helicopter-dropped explosives are known to Syrians — landed.

An amateur video posted by activists online showed paramedics helping a wounded man whose face was covered with blood come out of the bus. The lifeless body of a woman can be seen in the back of the bus, while another man is lying on the pavement outside.

The footage shows paramedics, flashlights on their helmets, pulling an older man from a bus window in the darkness. An unidentified man offers a plea to the camera that bombs are "falling on us every day!"

"Is she alive? If she's dead, leave her. ... The ones who are still breathing are a priority," a rescue worker shouts frantically.

The video, which appeared genuine and corresponded to AP's reporting of the events depicted, captured a daily snapshot of the carnage in Syria. The nearly 4-year-old conflict has claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokewswoman Marie Harf condemned the Assad forces' latest attacks, singling out the use of barrel bombs against civilians who "were simply attempting to go about their day."

"These attacks show an utter disregard for human life," she said, arguing that "there can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under the leadership of this ruthless dictator. ... Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go."

The Aleppo attack reflected a broader government offensive against rebel positions across Syria, where the civil war is attracting little attention versus the vicious exploits of the Islamic State group. It controls large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, but anti-government activists say the world should keep its focus on the atrocities committed by Assad's forces.

"Everything Daesh is doing now, the (Syrian) regime has done before and is still doing," said Syrian activist Ahmed al-Ahmad, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym. "But the world protects Assad and only cares about Daesh crimes."

The government and its opponents face a deadly stalemate in Aleppo, which is divided into a war-ravaged, rebel-controlled west and government-held east. The government also has escalated its attacks on the rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria's civil war through a network of activists on the ground, said it already has recorded some 650 airstrikes across Syria this month. These include more than 350 barrel-bomb strikes in several areas, including the eastern Damascus suburbs called Eastern Ghouta, Aleppo and the nearby city of Idlib, and the southern province of Daraa.

The organization said Thursday marked the highest death toll for the past week, with 242 people killed, nearly half of them civilians killed as a result of government airstrikes.

Videos uploaded by activists showed scenes of chaos in Eastern Ghouta as volunteers dug for survivors in the rubble of destroyed buildings. In a makeshift hospital, an adult was filmed dabbing blood from the face of a curly-haired child wearing a green pullover.

Another showed a baby on a gurney, a white bandage wrapped around his head.


Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.


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Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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