Air strike kills 15 in Aleppo, Assad warns of regional turmoil
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian government air strike killed 15 people on Saturday, including nine children, in a district of the northern city of Aleppo where Kurdish fighters have been battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a violence monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a warplane had bombarded the western edges of the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, where Assad's forces have been battling rebels for nine months.
In Damascus, state media said rebels fired a mortar bomb into the heart of the capital, killing one person, wounding several others and causing damage to buildings and cars nearby.
Assad has lost swathes of territory in the north and east of the country. Rebels hold several eastern and southern districts of Damascus and pose a growing challenge in the southern province of Deraa - cradle of the two-year uprising - which could become a platform for a fiercer assault on the capital.
The president told Turkish television that a rebel victory might destabilize the Middle East for decades.
"The situation will inevitably spill over into neighboring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond ... spreading east, west, north and south. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come," he said.
His remarks were an acid reiteration of his long-standing argument that Syria and the region will face a bleak future if he falls. His foes argue that his determination to keep power at all costs has already plunged his country into disaster.
200 DYING A DAY
The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict. Daily death tolls of around 200 are not uncommon, activists say. More than a million refugees have fled the country and the Syrian Red Crescent says nearly four million have been internally displaced.
The Syrian Observatory, which monitors the violence from Britain through a network of activists, medics and military sources, said the death toll from the Sheikh Maqsoud strike was likely to rise because many people were seriously wounded.
A video released by activists showed the badly burnt body of a child, and the Observatory said it was not clear whether any of the dead included fighters. A group of Kurdish insurgents later killed five soldiers in an attack on a security post on the outskirts of Sheikh Maqsoud, it said.
Syria's Kurds, members of a ethnic group who stretch over a large swathe of the region but have no state of their own, have so far been split over whether or not to support the uprising.
Activists also said three people had been killed in fighting to the east of Damascus, and the Observatory reported clashes in Jobar, on the edge of central Damascus, and government bombardment of targets in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.
In neighboring Turkey, the head of an opposition interim government who was elected last month began consultations to start forming his ministerial team.
A statement from the opposition coalition said Ghassan Hitto would appoint 11 ministers, including a minister of defense, interior, foreign affairs, economy, refugees and justice.
But, in a sign that the process could be a protracted one, it said the task was being passed to committees who would seek to attract qualified candidates.
Hitto, who lived for years in the United States and has only briefly visited rebel areas of northern Syria, has no authority over fighters on the ground, and his election angered many activists who said he had been imposed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Hitto and the opposition were invited to an Arab League summit last month in place of the Syrian government, a step that Assad dismissed as a stunt.
"The Arab League itself lacks legitimacy," he said. "It is an organization that represents Arab states and not Arab people. It has lacked legitimacy for a long time because these Arab states themselves .... do not reflect the will of the Arab people."
Assad also dismissed Western countries that condemned his crackdown on the protest as hypocrites. "France and Britain committed massacres in Libya with the support and cover of the United States. The Turkish government is knee-deep in Syrian blood. Are these states really concerned about Syrian blood?"
Responding to rumors of his assassination spread by activists and fighters over the last two weeks, Assad said he was living as ever in Damascus, despite rebel advances in the outskirts of the city and regular mortar attacks on its center.
"I am not hiding in a bunker. These rumors (aim) to undermine the morale of the Syrian people. I neither live on a Russian warship nor in Iran. I live in Syria, in the same place I always did."
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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