Air strike on bakery kills dozens in central Syria

BEIRUT Sun Dec 23, 2012 12:38pm EST

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Dozens of people were killed in an air strike while queuing for bread in Syria's central Hama province on Sunday, activists said, with some residents giving an initial count of 90 dead.

Such a toll, if confirmed, would make it one of the deadliest air strikes in Syria's civil war.

Videos uploaded by activists showed dozens of blood-stained bodies crumpled in the street among piles of rubble and shrapnel.

"When I got there, I could see piles of bodies all over the ground. There were women and children," said Samer al-Hamawi, an activist in the town of Halfaya, where the strike hit a bakery. "There are also dozens of wounded."

Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: "It is still very unclear what the casualties are ... From looking at the videos I expect the death toll to be around or above 50, and not higher than 100. But for now I am keeping my estimate at dozens killed until we have more information."

Halfaya, which activists said has around 30,000 residents, was seized by rebels last week in their 21-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition has made a push into the central province of Hama in order to put more pressure on Assad's forces.

One video showed a man frantically trying to dig out a moaning woman, drenched in blood and covered by a pile of dirt and debris. In another, a young boy flailed helplessly in the middle of the road. Both of his feet had been blown off in the blast.

Hamawi said the fighter jet hit the town at around 4 p.m., with four rockets. Two rockets hit the bakery, where he said more than 1,000 people had been queuing at the bakery. Shortages of fuel and flour have made bread production erratic across the country, and people often wait for hours to buy loaves.

"We hadn't received flour in around three days so everyone was going to the bakery today, and lots of them were women and children," Hamawi said. "I still don't know yet if my relatives are among the dead."

The medical centers in Halfaya had become so crowded, he said, that many of the wounded had been taken to hospitals in nearby towns.

New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned army air strikes on bakeries earlier this year, arguing that in some incidents the Syrian military was not using enough precision to target rebel sites, and in other instances it may have intentionally hit civilians.

Hamawi, who spoke via Skype, uploaded a video of the scene that showed dozens of dust-coated bodies lined up near a pile of rubble by a concrete building, its walls blackened.

Women and children were crying and screaming as some men rushed to the scene with motor-bikes and vans to carry away the victims.

The authenticity of the videos could not be immediately verified. The government restricts media access in Syria.

In another video, the cameraman could be heard sobbing as he filmed the scene in front of him.

"God is great, God is great. It was a war plane, a war plane," he cried.

The video showed a man stopping to pick up half a corpse lying in the street, wrapping it up in his own jacket and carrying it away.

Frantic residents were using their bare hands to try to pick through blocks of concrete to reach a pile of bodies beneath them.

"Where are the Arabs, where is the world?" shouted one man. "Look at all of these bodies!"

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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