View of the al-Marja neighbourhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on January 21, 2014
View of the al-Marja neighbourhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on January 21, 2014 © Zein Al-Rifai - Aleppo Media Centre/AFP
View of the al-Marja neighbourhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on January 21, 2014
AFP
Last updated: January 22, 2014

Peace talks in Switzerland, flames in Syria

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A missile attack Wednesday on an opposition area in northern Syria killed 10 people, including five children and three women, as peace talks opened in Switzerland, a monitoring group said.

Fighting raged across much of Syria as regime and opposition delegates attended the international peace conference aimed at ending a nearly three-year civil war that has claimed more than 130,000 lives.

"Two men, three women and five children were killed when a missile -- believed to be a surface-to-surface missile -- hit the Maasraniyeh area of Aleppo city," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group.

Once Syria's commercial capital, Aleppo has been the scene of intense fighting since a rebel offensive there in July 2012.

In the middle of December President Bashar al-Assad's regime launched a massive aerial campaign in which it dropped barrels filled with explosives on residential areas, killing hundreds of people and drawing widespread condemnation.

Elsewhere in Aleppo, rebels and regime forces clashes as the army tried to advance on the Aziziyeh neighbourhood and a nearby industrial area.

"The army is trying to take advantage of the fact the rebels are also fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to try to advance on Aleppo," said Abu Omar, an activist in the province.

While rebels fighting Assad's troops initially welcomed jihadists in Syria, they launched a major offensive against them earlier this month, after ISIL's quest for hegemony and abuses angered much of the rest of the opposition.

In Darkush, in the northern Idlib province, fresh clashes broke out between ISIL and other rebel groups, and a child was killed in the crossfire, said the Observatory.

Further south, Assad's forces shelled rebel positions in the Saydnaya area near Damascus, while fighting in Zabadani nearby killed at least 10 soldiers, including three officers, according to the Observatory.

Regime helicopters meanwhile dropped highly destructive so-called barrel bombs in the central Hama province, said the group, that relies on a network of activists and other witnesses inside the country.

The use of barrel bombs has been widely condemned by rights groups because such weapons fail to distinguish between fighters and civilians.

In Homs, where rebel-held areas have been under siege for nearly 600 days, troops shelled the contested Waar neighbourhood, home to thousands of people who have fled their homes in other parts of the city.

"The situation on the ground has not changed at all despite the talks opening in Switzerland. All the main frontlines are still extremely violent, just like yesterday," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

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