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Blast Kills at Least 30 in Syria's North


Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are seen at Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria, September 20, 2012.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are seen at Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria, September 20, 2012.

A Syrian rights group says a blast in northeast Syria has killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens of others.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quotes witnesses as saying the blast occurred when an air strike hit a fuel station in al-Raqqa province. The group's director, Rami Abdelrahman, said witnesses told him they saw at least 30 bodies, with the death toll likely to rise.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television said a military helicopter that crashed near Damascus clipped the tail of a Syrian passenger plane in midair. The report said the passenger jet landed safely at Damascus International Airport with 200 people onboard.

Speaking from Damascus, VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott said reports of the incident were an alarming example of the lack of control.

"It just speaks to the kind of chaotic situation, with helicopters flying around bombing these places just sporadically and without, evidently, very clear guidelines of where they are flying," she said.

Opposition activists said rebels shot down the helicopter. The Syrian state report did not include eyewitnesses to the alleged incident.


Solution nowhere in sight

Meanwhile, the Syrian government's Minister of National Reconciliation, Ali Haider, spoke to reporters in the capital Thursday.

"He too does not seem to have any great groundbreaking effort to be able to bring the two sides closer together," Arrott said. "He spoke of this as a turning point. But again, it was very much that the rebels kind of just have to lay down their arms and say they are sorry, and that doesn't seem likely to happen."

As Syrian children started their first days of school this week, people are still pessimistic on the subject of reaching a solution to the crisis, which began in March of last year. Inside the classrooms, teachers and students hear the shelling and explosions nearby.

"Meanwhile the kids are in class trying their best to carry on, but it's a very disturbing scene," Arrott said.

Classrooms are crowded in the al-Abbassiyin neighborhood as parents bring their children from nearby towns where fighting rages.

In Syria's most populous city, Aleppo, a pro-government television station claimed Thursday government forces had advanced, killing large numbers of what it described as "terrorists." Syria's official news agency claimed that 100 Afghan fighters were killed in one district of the city.

The war of attrition inside Aleppo between government forces and rebel fighters is now in its third month.

International community weighs in

As the humanitarian crisis continues both inside and outside Syria, the government said Russia had sent 50 tons of aid to the Syrian people and would send another shipment on Friday. Deputy Social Affairs Minister Hassan Hijazi thanked Russia for the aid and accused the European Union and the U.S. of creating the humanitarian crisis by imposing economic sanctions on Syria.

Foreign supporters of the Syrian opposition's Friends of Syria group met in the Netherlands Thursday to discuss new economic sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal argued that more sanctions would help topple the Syrian president.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the government and the opposition in Syria appear determined to resolve the crisis militarily. He told reporters that military means will not bring an answer, and the crisis should be resolved through political dialogue.

Ban said Syria will be a top issue as he meets with world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, saying they must urgently address the situation.

Reporter Elizabeth Arrott contributed to this report from Damascus and Ed Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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