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'Airstrikes' pound Syrian rebel strongholds

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Syrian government warplanes have unleashed a series of airstrikes on opposition strongholds in the country's north, activists have reported.

The raids were reported to have hit Idlib and Aleppo provinces on Tuesday, with activists describing them as some of the worst since rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad made advances in the region over the past week.

Amateur videos claimed to show an airstrike on Maarat Herma in Idlib province and damaged buildings in Maarat al-Numan in the same province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pre-dawn air raids around Maaret al-Numan were the "most violent" since rebels captured the strategic town last week.

The warplanes targeted the blockade of the highway to second city Aleppo, the theatre of intense fighting for the past three months, it said, adding rebels responded with anti-aircraft fire.

Army shelling of nearby Kafr Nabal killed two children, aged six and 10, said the observatory, adding they were among at least 70 people who died in bloodshed across the country.

Another five children under the age of six died along with two adults in shelling of homes at Mayadeen village in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, added the Britain-based group.

"The army's bombardments are killing the future of Syria," observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.

Calls for ceasefire

Reports of the deadly airstrikes came as the UN-Arab League for Syria envoy called for a ceasefire in the country during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Lakhdar Brahimi made his call on Monday as he shuttled between Syria's neighbours, which have been divided by the conflict.

He was in Iraq after holding talks in Iran, a close ally of Assad.

While in Baghdad, Brahimi said that the conflict in Syria represented a threat to world peace but denied he was seeking peacekeepers for the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, called for quick progress in resolving the crisis and reiterated calls for a political solution, during talks with the veteran Algerian diplomat.

After also meeting President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Brahimi told reporters that he discussed the Syrian conflict "and the danger it represents to its people, its neighbours and to world peace".

Iranian officials put forward proposals for a political transition during their meetings with Brahimi but they were for one supervised by Assad, Hossein Amir Abdolahian, Iran's deputy foreign minister, said on Monday, something that is likely to be unacceptable to the Syrian opposition.

Brahimi said he welcomed ideas from all sides.

"We hope all these ideas gather into a project to put an end to the Syrian people's nightmare," he said.

Refugee crisis

A Turkish disaster agency said on Monday that the number of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their homeland and seeking refuge in Turkey now exceeded 100,000.

The AFAD agency said in a statement that there were now 100,363 Syrians at more than a dozen camps in Turkish provinces along the border.

Turkey had previously said that it would be able to handle no more than 100,000 refugees and had called for safe zones to protect people on Syrian soil.

Turkish officials have said, however, that the country will not close its doors to refugees if the number exceeds the threshold.

The revolt against the Syrian government now enters its 20th month with a death toll of more than 33,000.


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