A missile fired by a MiG warplane hit a residential neighborhood in Maarat… (Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty…)
BEIRUT — More than 40 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed Thursday in an airstrike on the northern city of Maarat Numan, activists said, in another bloody day in Syria during which more than 200 people reportedly were killed.
Maarat Numan, strategically located on the main highway that connects Syria's two major cities, Aleppo and Damascus, has been the site of more than a week of fierce clashes and intense shelling by government helicopters and warplanes.
Thursday's attack came a day after activists posted a video showing what they said was a government helicopter shot down by rebels near the city.
A missile fired by a MiG warplane hit a residential neighborhood around noon, destroying four buildings and four homes and damaging a nearby mosque, said opposition activist Ahmad Halabi. He described a gory scene of body parts amid rubble, making it difficult to identify victims. Nonetheless, he said at least 15 children were among the dead.
Accounts of the attack could not be independently confirmed, as the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad restricts the access of foreign journalists to the conflict zones.
Government aircraft have increased attacks on the opposition-controlled city since last week, when rebels launched an offensive to get rid of military checkpoints around Maarat Numan.
The daily death tolls, which according to reports regularly top 150, come as United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is scheduled to visit Damascus on Saturday. He is expected to push for a four-day cease-fire next week on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The visit will be his second to Syria since he succeeded Kofi Annan as envoy in August and comes at the end of a visit to Iran, Syria's neighbor and chief ally in the region.
Despite Brahimi's efforts to garner support for the brief cease-fire, the likelihood of success is small given previous failures to reach a truce and stop the violence.
Damascus, the capital, was rocked by a car bomb that struck near the Interior Ministry in the Kfar Souseh neighborhood. A Free Syrian Army rebel militia claimed responsibility for the attack. In an online video apparently taken at the moment of the explosion, a narrator says: "The Abdullah bin al-Mubarak militia strikes the biggest security compound in Damascus in Kfar Souseh."
Officials from other rebel groups said the explosion came from an remote-controlled vehicle and struck the checkpoint in front of the ministry.
Explosions targeting government and security buildings have become increasingly common in the capital, which remains under the control of Assad's government.