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The Journal Gazette

  • In this Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians inspect damages buildings following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. Government forces widened a bombing campaign in rebel-held areas of northern Syria on Monday, striking the northern city of Aleppo and a town on the Turkish border in raids that left an estimated 45 people dead, activists said. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

Sunday, December 29, 2013 2:38 pm

Syria evacuates 5,000 from town near Damascus

The Associated Press

The Syrian government evacuated some 5,000 people Sunday from an embattled industrial town near Damascus where al-Qaida-linked rebels have been battling government troops for more than two weeks, the state news agency said.

Opposition fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, swept into Adra northeast of the capital in mid-December, reportedly killing civilians, many of whom are members of the Alawite and Druse sects. Both minority communities largely support President Bashar Assad, who himself is an Alawite, against the primarily Sunni-led rebellion.

Shortly after the rebels pushed into Adra, Syrian soldiers surrounded the area and there has been heavy fighting there since.

On Sunday, Minister for Social Affair Kinda al-Shammat said more than 5,000 people were evacuated from the town. In a statement carried by the SANA state news agency, Shammat said the people have been moved to a safe place, and the ministry has established operation rescue rooms to offer aid and support.

Meanwhile, an activist group said the death toll from nearly two weeks of Syrian government airstrikes on opposition-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo has surpassed 500.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday the aerial campaign killed at least 517 people, including 151 children and 46 women, as of midnight Saturday. The Observatory monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground.

Government aircraft have pummeled rebel neighborhoods of the divided city since Dec. 15, often with crude barrel bombs that cause massive damage upon impact. The assault has flooded hospitals with casualties, putting a significant strain on already strapped resources.

The Syrian government hasn't commented on the campaign.