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Syrian warplanes pound a strategic city held by rebels

At least 43 dead; carnage seen at mosque, hospital

BEIRUT — Syrian warplanes hammered a strategic city captured by rebels, leaving behind scenes of carnage captured on Thursday on amateur videos that showed a man holding up two child-size legs not connected to a body and another man carrying a dismembered arm.

Activists said airstrikes over the past two days on opposition targets across Syria’s north have killed at least 43 people.

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The city of Maaret al-Numan, located on a major north-south highway connecting Aleppo and Damascus, was captured by rebels last week, and there has been heavy fighting around it since. Rebel brigades from the surrounding area have poured in to defend the town. Online videos have shown them firing mortars at regime troops, and they claimed to have shot down a government helicopter on Wednesday.

Since it was captured a week ago, the city in northern Idlib Province and its surroundings have been the focus of one of the heaviest air bombardments since President Bashar Assad’s military first unleashed its air force against rebels over the summer.

Local activists in the city say warplanes are continuously overhead, and entire villages are largely deserted and peppered with destroyed homes.

The scenes from the city provide a window into the carnage being wrought by the Syrian military’s increasing reliance on airstrikes to fight rebels waging a civil war to topple Assad. Rights groups say the airstrikes often hit civilian areas. And this week, US-based Human Rights Watch accused Syria of using cluster bombs, which pose grave dangers to civilians.

The regime contends that it is fighting terrorists backed by foreign powers who seek to destroy Syria, and it denies using cluster bombs.

The latest onslaught by the Syrian Air Force left residents frantically digging through mounds of rubble searching for survivors or bodies trapped underneath.

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The latest onslaught from the skies left residents frantically digging through mounds of rubble searching for survivors or bodies trapped underneath.

Amateur videos purportedly filmed after an airstrike there on Thursday showed the men carrying around body parts and 18 white cloth bundles holding the remains of those killed.

Activist claims and videos cannot be independently verified due to restrictions on reporting in Syria. But all videos corresponded to activists’ reports and appeared to have been filmed where they said they were.

One strike hit a neighborhood near the rebel field hospital in Maaret al-Numan, activist Fadi Yassin said via Skype.

Airstrikes also hit three nearby villages on Wednesday, killing 15 people, Yassin said. Nine of those were in Kafar Nubul, while others died in the villages of Kafrouma and Hass.

Airstrikes late Wednesday and early Thursday hit at least five towns in northern Idlib and Aleppo provinces, both of which border Turkey.

The aftermath of one of the strikes was captured on video late Wednesday in the city of Aleppo. It struck a large mosque. While some men in the videos carry away bodies, others work to dig out a survivor whose legs are buried in debris.

An Aleppo-based activist who gave his name as Abu Raed said men were arriving for Wednesday evening prayers when a fighter jet dropped a bomb on the Light of the Martyrs Mosque in the Shaar neighborhood. The blast destroyed a room used for ritual washing and part of the prayer hall itself, he said via Skype.

He said at least 10 people had been killed, though the number could be higher, either because bodies were still trapped in the rubble or because people were buried before being recorded.

‘‘There were people who took the dead and wounded away before the cameras showed up,’’ he said.

Videos that activists said were shot soon after the attack show a blockwide expanse of rubble surrounded by buildings whose facades had been blown off. Men scour the rubble, occasionally finding bodies and carrying them off.

Rebels and regime forces have been clashing for months in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial capital.

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