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Activists say 13 killed in airstrike near Damascus

Published: Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 7:33 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

BEIRUT — A Syrian government airstrike hit a house in a rebellious suburb of Damascus early Monday, killing at least 13 people, including eight children, and trapping others under the rubble, activists said.

President Bashar Assad's forces have intensified their ongoing campaign against the towns and villages around Damascus, underlining the regime's resolve to crush the rebels a week after the Syrian leader defiantly rejected any talks with the armed opposition.

Activists said at least 45 people were killing in the government barrage on Sunday, and they described the bombardment over the past 24 hours as some of the heaviest in the Damascus region since the government launched an offensive in November to dislodge rebels from the capital's outskirts.

The airstrike early Monday struck a home in the southern suburb of Maadamiyeh when residents were still inside, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said. Locals pulled 13 bodies — including those of eight children — from the rubble, the Observatory said, adding that at least seven more people remain trapped.

Syrian state media, however, refuted that account, and blamed rebels for the deaths in Maadamiyeh. The official SANA news agency said "terrorist" fired a shell at the neighborhood, hitting a residential building and causing casualties.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed a young men walking over piles of rubble, searching for people as women, apparently trapped inside buildings, can be heard wailing and crying for help. A voice in the background says the video is of Maadamiyeh.

A man cries "God is great" as the camera closed in on what appears to be a child's body covered in rubble. The child is lying on the ground face down, with another body next to him, a hand sticking from under the rubble.

The videos are consistent with AP reporting from the area.

Fighter jets also carried out fresh airstrikes on the suburb of Daraya, from which the rebels have tried to storm Damascus, the seat of Assad's power. The Observatory said heavy clashes between rebels fighting to topple Assad and his troops erupted after the air raids.

Maadamiyeh is located near Daraya, a strategic suburb that is flanked by the key districts of Mazzeh, home to a military air base, and Kfar Sousseh, where the government headquarters, the General Security intelligence agency head office and the Interior Ministry are located. Last week, the government said it has regained control over more than half of the suburb.

Monday's attacks come a day after airstrikes and heavy shelling killed at least 45 people in the Damascus area.

The deadliest attack was reported in eastern Ghouta district, where 24 people, including eight children, were killed by government air and artillery strikes. The rest of the casualties, included 13 rebels killed in clashes, were in other neighborhoods outside the capital that have been opposition strongholds since the revolt against Assad started in March 2011.

In a speech earlier this month, Assad dismissed international calls to relinquish power and vowed to continue fighting rebels.

The speech was condemned by the U.S. and its Western and Gulf Arab allies, while Assad's backers in Russia and Iran said his proposal should be considered.

Those fighting to topple the regime, including rebels on the ground, have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president's departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized Western demands that Assad steps down. While acknowledging that the initiatives to talk to the opposition, "probably don't go far enough," Lavrov called on the opposition to come up with their plan to end the bloodshed.

"President Assad put forth initiatives which are aimed at inviting all opposition members to a dialogue," Lavrov said Sunday during a visit to Ukraine.

"If I were in the opposition's place, I would put forth my own ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue," Lavrov said.

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Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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