BEIRUT — Syrian government forces continued their bombing campaign in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, with a single strike in a crowded vegetable market killing at least 21 people, activists and residents said.
Activists in Aleppo say that more than 400 people had been killed in nearly two weeks of airstrikes and barrages of improvised “barrel bombs” packed with explosives that are dropped from low altitudes by helicopters.
Peace talks brokered by Russia and the United States are scheduled to begin Jan. 22 in an attempt to end the Syrian civil war, which began as a protest movement against President Bashar Assad. After a government crackdown, it morphed into a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people.
Many activists contend that the government is increasing the use of force to demoralize the opposition and gain ground before the conference. Others believe the attacks are meant as revenge for recent insurgent assaults in the town of Adra, north of Damascus, in which many civilians were reported to have been killed.
Videos posted by activists in the Tareek al-Bab and Al Myassar neighborhoods of Aleppo showed buildings and market stalls reduced to rubble and residents expressing bitter shock and despair.
In the market area, which was hit by a barrel bomb, one man gestured into a car.
“There were two women and a man with their kids,” he said. “We just found pieces of the kids.” The women, he said, were decapitated by the blast, and he described how he and others used plastic bags to carry away the remains of more than 20 victims. “May God give you what you deserve, you tyrant!” he shouted, referring to Assad.
Nisreen Manafikhi, an activist from Aleppo, said in a Skype interview that 22 people had been killed in the market attack, which also collapsed a residential building, and that 10 others had died in nearby airstrikes. Videos showed men, apparently in shock, squatting atop piles of stone. Streets were strewn with rubble, and entire blocks of buildings damaged.
In another video, a boy spoke through tears as he stood in the rubble, saying no fighters had been killed.
“I would not mind if those killed were from the people who raised their weapons against him,” he said, referring to Assad. “All the dead are poor civilians trying to make a living in the vegetable market. We are not fighters, and fighting is not our business; we want to make a living.”