An air strike on a petrol station in northern Syria has killed more than 50 people, activists have claimed. The attack took place in Raqqa province, around 100 miles (160km) east of war-torn Aleppo.
A video posted online, which purportedly showed the aftermath, revealed a scene of devastation as locals and emergency workers scrambled amid fire and wreckage. Activists claim the petrol station was attacked on Thursday afternoon by a jet fighter that had circled above it hours before.
The Syrian air force has been increasingly active over much of the country’s towns and cities in recent months, but had rarely attacked in Raqqa. The bombing took place in Ain Issa village, around 25 miles south of the Turkish border, close to where rebels on Wedesday over-ran a border checkpoint.
Fighting continued in Syria’s two biggest cities, with suburbs of Aleppo again seeing pitched battles between regime forces backed by heavy artillery in the west of the city and guerilla forces in the east. In the capital Damascus, regime forces continued to sweep through areas that had been deemed sympathetic to opposition groups.
Residents said jets and helicopters were a constant presence over the south-east suburb of Douma, where rebels claimed earlier on Thursday to have shot down a helicopter that had been firing on sites below.
Syria’s information minister later acknowledged that one of its military helicopters had crashed, but claimed it had done so after a grazing a passenger jet mid-air, which had later landed safely.
Frequent attacks from above on rebel positions, often in civilian neighbourhoods, have caused immense damage in Homs, Hama and Idlib as well, where air strikes have taken place most days since mid-July.
Violence has intensified across the country since then, with almost all parts of Syria now engaged in civil war. Rebel gains in Aleppo and Damascus during days that followed have not yielded the decisive blows that opposition commanders had expected.
Rather regime forces, which had initially been on the back foot, have clawed back losses of territory in Damascus and are inching forward in Aleppo, where the battle is being steadily joined by militants from outside Syria, some of whom espouse global jihadism.
Syria’s national news agency said 100 such Afghan fighters had been killed in Aleppo on Thursday, a claim strongly denied by rebel leaders on the ground. The arrival of foreigners to key battlefields has been a point of contention for the Free Syrian Army, whose units are sometimes cautiously welcoming the strangers.
“They are trying to form their own leadership groups,” said one rebel officer in southern Turkey. “We won’t let that happen. This is our revolution. It is not a jihad as they see it.”
The International Committee for the Red Cross has renewed warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis as refugees continue to stream from Syria into neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan where local authorities are struggling to provide food and shelter for them.