Syrian activists and medical officials say a series of government air strikes on rebel areas in the country's north has killed at least 43 people, including many children.
The activists said the strikes happened late Wednesday and early Thursday and hit five areas in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, including the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan which is strategically located along the Damascus-Aleppo highway. The road connects Syria's two largest cities.
Insurgents who have been attempting to cut the Syrian Army’s supply lines to Aleppo took control of Maaret al-Numan earlier this month.
Graphic video of the strikes posted online show leveled buildings and survivors pulling bodies from the debris. Activist claims and video could not be independently verified.
The bombings come as international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi repeated calls for a temporary cease-fire he says could form the basis for a real truce in the war-torn country. A United Nations spokesman said Brahimi will arrive in Damascus on Friday in an attempt to broker the cease-fire.
The U.N.-Arab League envoy told reporters Thursday after meeting Jordan's foreign minister that a respite in hostilities could build confidence and help bring about a longer truce in the 19-month-old conflict.
A previous cease-fire in April collapsed after just a few days, with each side blaming the other. Then-mediator Kofi Annan resigned from his post in frustration.
Meanwhile, a global online activist group is calling attention to thousands of cases of forced disappearances in Syria, saying government security forces and paramilitary groups are using the tactic to terrorize families and communities.
Avaaz released testimony Thursday
from family members of those arrested, detained or abducted in Syria since the crisis began in March of last year. It says it will hand the cases to the United Nations Human Rights Council for investigation.
A spokesman for the group, Ian Bassin, said the sheer scale of the operation may signal that the government is using the tactic as a tool of intimidation.
"Imagine the horror of not knowing what has happened to your father, your wife, your brother, your son," said Bassin." They've been taken. You don't know if they're alive or dead, if they're being tortured or in pain, if they'll ever come back again. For a lot of people, the hope that maybe if I stay silent, maybe if I comply and I don't oppose the government, maybe then I'll see my loved one again is a way of keeping the opposition down. And that may be what we're seeing in Syria," he said.
The organization's report cites human rights groups and lawyers saying at least 28,000 - and as many as 80,000 - people have been forcibly taken.
Avaaz stopped updating its own totals in July 2011 with just under 3,000 cases, saying the situation on the ground in Syria had made it too difficult to verify the accounts.
Also Thursday, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said terrorists blew up a gas pipeline and an oil pipeline. It said the explosions happened in the Deir Ezzor area, and quoted an oil ministry official saying repairs to the pipelines would begin soon.
The Syrian government refers to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as "terrorists."