* Eleven dead, 40 wounded in Damascus bombing
* Second petrol station hit this week
* U.N. says 60,000 people killed in conflict
By Yara Bayoumy
AZAZ, Syria, Jan 4 At least 11 people were
killed and 40 wounded when a car bomb exploded at a crowded
petrol station in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday,
opposition activists said.
The station was packed with people queueing for fuel that
has become increasingly scarce during the country's
21-month-long insurgency aimed at overthrowing President Bashar
The semi-official al-Ikhbariya television station showed
footage of 10 burnt bodies and Red Crescent workers searching
for victims at the site.
The opposition Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus
said the explosion was caused by a booby-trapped car.
There was no immediate indication of who was responsible for
the bombing in the Barzeh al-Balad district, whose residents
include members of the Sunni Muslim majority and other religious
and ethnic minorities.
"The station is usually packed even when it has no fuel,"
said an opposition activist who did not want to be named. "There
are lots of people who sleep there overnight, waiting for early
morning fuel consignments."
It was the second time that a petrol station has been hit in
Damascus this week. Dozens of people were incinerated in an air
strike as they waited for fuel on Wednesday, according to
In northern Syria, rebels were battling to seize an air base
in their campaign against the air power that Assad has used to
bomb rebel-held towns.
More than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising and
civil war, the United Nations said this week, a much higher
death toll than previously thought.
After dramatic advances over the second half of 2012, the
rebels now hold wide swathes of territory in the north and east,
but they cannot protect towns and villages from Assad's
helicopters and jets.
Hundreds of rebel fighters were attempting to storm the
Taftanaz air base, near the highway that links Syria's two main
cities, Aleppo and Damascus.
A rebel fighter speaking from near the Taftanaz base
overnight said much of the base was still in loyalist hands but
insurgents had managed to destroy a helicopter and a fighter jet
on the ground.
The northern rebel Idlib Coordination Committee said the
rebels had detonated a car bomb inside the base.
The government's SANA news agency said the base had not
fallen and that the military had "strongly confronted an attempt
by the terrorists to attack the airport from several axes,
inflicting heavy losses among them and destroying their weapons
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the opposition-aligned Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict from
Britain, said as many as 800 fighters were involved in the
assault, including Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra, a powerful
group that Washington considers terrorists.
Taftanaz is mainly a helicopter base, used for missions to
resupply army positions cut off by the rebels, as well as for
dropping crude "barrel bombs" on rebel-controlled areas.
Near Minakh, another northern air base that rebels have
surrounded, government forces have retaliated by shelling and
bombing nearby towns.
In the town of Azaz, where the bombardment has become a near
nightly occurrence, shells hit a family house overnight. Zeinab
Hammadi said her two wounded daughters, aged 10 and 12, had been
rushed across the border to Turkey, one with her brain exposed.
"We were sleeping and it just landed on us in the blink of
an eye," she said, weeping as she surveyed the damage.
Family members tried to salvage possessions from the
wreckage, men lifting out furniture and children carrying out
their belongings in tubs.
"He (Assad) wants revenge against the people," said Abu
Hassan, 33, working at a garage near the destroyed house. "What
is the fault of the children? Are they the ones fighting?"
Opposition activists said warplanes struck a residential
building in another rebel-held northern town, Hayyan, killing at
least eight civilians.
Video footage showed men carrying dismembered bodies of
children and dozens of people searching for victims in the
rubble. The provenance of the video could not be independently
In addition to their tenuous grip on the north, the rebels
also hold a crescent of suburbs on the edge of Damascus, which
have come under bombardment by government forces that control
the centre of the capital.
On Wednesday, according to opposition activists, dozens of
people died in an inferno caused by an air strike on a petrol
station in a Damascus suburb where residents were lining up for
The civil war in Syria has become the longest and bloodiest
of the conflicts that rose out of uprisings across the Arab
world in the past two years.
Assad's family has ruled for 42 years since his father
seized power in a coup. The war pits rebels, mainly from the
Sunni Muslim majority, against a government supported by members
of Assad's Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority sect and some
members of other minorities who fear revenge if he falls.
The West, most Sunni-ruled Arab states and Turkey have
called for Assad to step down. He is supported by Russia and