BEIRUT (AP) — A twin car bombing near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo killed a senior leader of an Islamic rebel brigade opposed to an al-Qaida-linked faction, activists said Sunday. The attack could exacerbate rebel infighting even as government aircraft bomb opposition-held areas of the divided city.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s helicopters have pounded Aleppo for weeks with barrel bombs – crude containers packed with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal – that cause massive damage on impact. Government airstrikes hit at least four different areas of the city Sunday, including near a mosque and a vegetable market, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the hardest-hit neighborhood was Tariq al-Bab, which was targeted at least eight times on Sunday alone. Activists said one strike killed 10 people. It wasn’t immediately how many other casualties there were.
Syrian forces have inched into eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo in recent weeks, their most important advance there since rebels fighting to overthrow Assad seized the areas in mid-2012.
An amateur video posted online shows a helicopter circling in the blue sky, and then a barrel plummeting from the aircraft until it slams into buildings on the horizon, sending a pillar of smoke and dust into the air. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events depicted.
Activists say the airstrikes coupled with shelling have cleared the way for the government to advance, smashing buildings into rubble and forcing civilians and rebels to flee.
They’ve also been assisted by weeks of rebel infighting pitting a loose alliance of Syrian fighters against al-Qaida linked extremists of the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant.
That conflict may escalate after a twin suicide bombing killed 26 people on Saturday, including a senior military commander of a prominent rebel group, the Tawhid Brigade.
The attack, widely blamed by both pro- and anti-al-Qaida activists on the Islamic State, targeted the base of its rivals in the Tawhid Brigade and killed senior leader Adnan Bakkour, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.
The Islamic State also killed another prominent commander, Abu Hussein al-Dik of Suqour al-Sham, on Saturday near the central city of Hama, the Observatory said. Abdurrahman said al-Dik was killed in an ambush outside of Hama, where he was traveling to try to help rebels encircled by Islamic State fighters.
Both the Tawhid Brigade and Suqour al-Sham are part of the Islamic Front, a powerful alliance of seven Islamist rebel factions that united in November. The Islamic Front has emerged as a heavy weight in northern Syria, and has been a driving force in the fight against the Islamic State.
Analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the Islamic State “appears to be targeting particularly strategic locales and individuals in its continuing operations against perceived enemy rebels.”
Syria’s war, which began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011, has slowly seeped into neighboring Lebanon.
Late Saturday, a shadowy Lebanese extremist group claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite town that killed at least three people.
The Nusra Front in Lebanon said on Twitter that the bombing in the northeast town of Hermel on Saturday was to punish the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which fights alongside forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Extremist Lebanese Sunni Muslims view Shiites as legitimate targets, because they often support Hezbollah. A series of blasts have targeted Hezbollah support areas.
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