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Rocket slams residential site in Aleppo

Reports said a rocket hit a residential building in a government-held area of Aleppo, Syria, killing about 12 people. Syria’s military blamed rebel groups, which denied responsibility.

SYRIA’S ARAB NEWS AGENCY

Reports said a rocket hit a residential building in a government-held area of Aleppo, Syria, killing about 12 people. Syria’s military blamed rebel groups, which denied responsibility.

BEIRUT — A rocket hit a building in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo and two suicide bombers struck near a mosque in the south Friday, capping a particularly bloody week in the country’s civil war.

More than 800 civilians were killed since Sunday, including an unusually large proportion in government-held areas.

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The residential building struck in Aleppo was in a part of the city controlled by regime forces, as was a university hit earlier in the week in an attack that killed 87 people, mostly students. The government accused rebels in both attacks, a claim the opposition denies.

But if confirmed, it would signal that the rebels have acquired more sophisticated weaponry — rockets— from captured regime bases and are now using them to take the fight more into government-held areas in an effort to break a monthslong stalemate in the war.

Rebels have in the past posted videos showing them capturing heavy rockets — apparently of the style fired from truck-mounted launchers — at regime military bases that they have overrun.

But it is not clear whether the fighters have — or are able to — use any of the ballistics. The rebels’ primary weaponry are automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Rockets would for the first time give them a greater range, an advantage that until now the regime military has overwhelmingly held, with its arsenal of warplanes, helicopters, artillery, rockets, and mortars.

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Regime bombardment has caused heavy civilian casualties — and if the rebels start blasting back with sometimes inaccurate rockets the civilian toll would likely rise.

But the opposition has denied being behind the Aleppo university strike and the strike Friday on the residential building, which one activist group said killed 12 people.

‘‘It was an air raid,’’ said Aleppo-based activist Abu Raed al-Halabi.

When asked why the regime would attack a government-held area, al-Halabi said most people in Aleppo are opposed to the regime.

Halabi said the rebels have captured some rockets near the capital, Damascus, but not in the Aleppo region. ‘‘If they have such missiles they would have fired it at the Military Intelligence headquarters,’’ he said.

Even if the rebels have captured surface-to-surface rockets it would not be a turning point in their battle against the regime of President Bashar Assad, said Aram Nerguizian, a Middle East security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Such systems would ‘‘do little to erode [regime] air power, effectively target [its]
infrastructure, turn the tide of the conflict, or change the broader strategic picture,’’ he said.

And rebel use of rockets could backfire since ‘‘these inaccurate systems are more likely to produce either no impact or kill more civilians than Syrian military forces.’’

Friday’s strike in Aleppo and suicide car bombings in the southern town of Daraa occurred during a particularly bloody week in Syria’s nearly two-year-old conflict.

Since the previous Friday, more than 1,000 people have been killed, including 804 civilians, 214 soldiers, and 20 army defectors fighting with the rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based
activist group that gathers information from a large network of contacts on the ground.

An Al-Jazeera TV correspondent was killed in Syria on Friday, the second journalist to lose his life in as many days covering the brutal civil war.

Mohammed al-Masalmeh was shot to death by a sniper while covering fighting in his hometown of Busra al-Harir in the south.

A day earlier, French journalist Yves Debay was killed by a sniper in Aleppo.

About 200 civilians were killed this week in government-controlled areas.

Most of them died during the strike on the university in Aleppo and in a mass killing Thursday in the central town of Haswiyeh, where opposition activists say a pro-government militia torched houses and killed more than 100 people.

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