CAIRO, EGYPT —
Opposition activists in Syria say government warplanes bombed a gasoline station near Damascus on Wednesday, reportedly killing dozens of people as they waited for fuel.
Amateur video showed bystanders running after the aerial assault in the Damascus suburb of Meliha. Young men clawed through twisted pieces of metal to pull victims from the rubble.
One witness told The Associated Press that a government warplane fired a single missile into the station.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that dozens of people were killed or wounded when a long line of vehicles waiting for fuel was attacked from the air.
A pro-government journalist reported that the gasoline station was a legitimate target because it was “close to an air defense base under rebel siege.” He said that rebels were seen “carrying shoulder-fired missiles in the area.”
Pro-government forces have bombed other civilian targets, including bakeries in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, in recent months.
Opposition activists have accused the government of trying to “starve the civilian population into submission.” Both bread and gasoline, which are normally subsidized by the government, are in short supply.
Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said that one strategy of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is to terrorize the civilian population into turning against the rebels.
"This form of mass murder is aimed at terrorizing the population to force it to turn against the rebels," he said. "It is part of a strategic bombing that we have seen throughout history in wars between nations, but in this case it is a regime against its own people. It's using the heavy handed, very bloody approach to crush the rebellion. This is the strategy."
Rebel forces attacked the government-controlled Taftanaz Airbase in Idlib province Wednesday. It was at least the third major attack on the air base in recent months. Rebel fighters also continued to besiege and attack the Minnig Airbase, north of Aleppo.
Heavy fighting also has been taking place recently near both of Syria's civilian international airports in Aleppo and Damascus. Civilian air traffic is suspended at both facilities.
Analyst Kahwaji said that many government airbases are under serious rebel pressure.
"In the north, northeast, eastern part of the country and around the capital the rebels have managed to lay siege to many airports and have forced the regime to ground many of its planes," he said. "However, the regime still holds airbases up in the west, on the west coast, in the northwest and north of the capital. These are the airports that are being used now to launch most of the air raids."
The United Nations reported Wednesday that close to 60,000 Syrians have been killed since a popular uprising broke out in March of 2011.
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