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Syrian forces renew strikes in Aleppo

Barrel-bomb air raids kill at least 23, activists say

Fighters with the Free Syrian Army watched from the frontline in the Karam Tarrad neighborhood of Aleppo as smoke rose during an attack on Saturday.

Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

Fighters with the Free Syrian Army watched from the frontline in the Karam Tarrad neighborhood of Aleppo as smoke rose during an attack on Saturday.

BEIRUT — Syrian military helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives in the government’s latest air raids on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 23 people including a family trapped in a burning car, activists said.

In neighboring Lebanon, a car bomb blew up near a gas station in a Shi’ite town, killing at least three people, in the latest attack linked to the war in neighboring Syria.

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Footage on al-Manar television, associated with the Shi’ite group Hezbollah, showed a bright orange blaze as black silhouettes of people ran by the gas station in the northeastern town of Hermel that lies near the Syrian border. Blasts could be heard in the background. The Lebanese Red Cross said another 18 people were wounded.

The large blast occurred near a school for impoverished and orphaned children. None were injured, officials said.

It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Lebanon’s Shi’ite community, as Syria’s violence causes neighboring Lebanon’s sectarian tensions to escalate into outright violence.

Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for a relentless series of attacks on Shi’ite parts of Lebanon, including a bomb that exploded in Hermel in late January. They say it is in retaliation for the Shi’ite Hezbollah group sending its fighters into Syria’s civil war to support forces of President Bashar Assad.

Lebanon’s Sunni community has also been hit, most notably by a deadly double car bombing outside Sunni mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in August.

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ secretary-general pressed the United States and Russia to help ensure that peace talks aimed at stemming Syria’s civil war can soon resume, while Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday that it was ‘‘very difficult’’ to push Assad’s government to make concessions.

A week of peace talks ended in Geneva on Friday with no concrete progress and no immediate commitment from Assad’s envoys to return on Feb. 10 for more meetings with the Western-backed opposition as suggested by mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

In Aleppo, the raids with barrel bombs, as the crude weapons are known, have flattened residential buildings, forcing defenders to flee and allowing government troops to advance.

The latest attacks killed 13 people in the al-Bab area of Aleppo, Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center said via Skype. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights corroborated the information.

The blasts badly damaged buildings and caused a fuel tanker to explode, setting nearby vehicles alight, including one carrying a family of eight who were trying to flee the area as they heard the approaching helicopters, said Abu Faisal.

Other barrel bombings in Aleppo killed three people near a mosque and another seven people in the Ansari quarter, activists said.

Ansari is frequently hit. On Friday, activists uploaded a video of what they said was a child being pulled alive from the rubble after shelling there. Scenes of civilians and firefighters pulling out dusty, bloodied bodies from under the rubble have become more frequent as the bombing continues.

The footage appeared authentic and reflected Associated Press reporting of the event.

The barrel bombing in Aleppo comes as Syrian government forces try retake the city, which has been divided into government- and opposition-held areas since mid-2012.

Over the past few weeks, government troops have fought their way to two rebel-held neighborhoods of Karam Tarrad and Karam Qaser, mostly by flattening residential buildings with barrel bombs, activists said.

Syrian troops have also taken advantage of infighting between a loose alliance of rebel brigades against an Al Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which is widely despised by other rebel groups and activists.

On Saturday, militants of the Islamic State carried out a twin suicide car bombing near a rival Islamic brigade near Aleppo, killing at least seven people, the Observatory said.

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