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Planes pound Aleppo for fourth straight day

165 killed in first three days

Associated Press . Beirut

Syrian warplanes dumped explosive-laden barrel bombs over opposition-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday, the fourth day of a relentless offensive to drive rebels out of the contested city, activists said.
The assault has killed more than 165 people in the first three days, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group.
The intensity of the campaign suggests that president Bashar Assad’s government is trying to crush opposition in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once its commercial hub, ahead of an international peace conference scheduled for late January in Switzerland.
Aleppo has been a major front in Syria’s civil war since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012, and the city has since been carved into opposition- and government-held areas.
Some of the barrels dumped Wednesday exploded near a school and a student dormitory said Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea. He said the military aircraft unloaded their volatile cargo over four Aleppo neighbourhoods.
Along with the Observatory, other activist groups such as the Local Coordinating Committees and the Aleppo Media Centre also reported the bombing. No one had information on the number of casualties inflicted in Wednesday’s bombing.
Marea said over Skype that one barrel struck near the Ahmad al-Qassar school, but that the bombing was so intense he couldn’t go out to check for casualties.
War-weary activists in Aleppo say the four-day offensive has been the most intense they’ve seen in the city since the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011.
The Syrian government frequently uses barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of kilograms of explosives and cause massive damage on impact. They appear to be simply pushed from planes to fall randomly over residential areas, and activists describe them as ‘barrels of blood’ because of their devastating effect.
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders warned on Tuesday that Aleppo hospitals have been overwhelmed with casualties.
Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Council, accused the international community on Tuesday of ‘failing to take any serious position that would guarantee a stop to the bloodbath’ in Aleppo ahead of the peace talks.
The country’s conflict, now in its third year, appears to have escalated in recent weeks as both sides manoeuvre ahead of next month’s planned peace talks and ignore calls for a cease-fire.
The US and Russian-brokered peace conference between Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition is scheduled to begin in January in the Swiss city of Montreux. Plans are underway to organise a one-day meeting of foreign ministers in the city ahead of the Syrian talks.

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