2 medics among 31 dead in Syria army reprisal for slain pilot
The bombardment struck the town of Jayrud, 60 kilometres northeast of Damascus, where the army says Islamist rebels killed the pilot after he was forced to eject on Friday.
Beirut: Syrian government shelling of a rebel-held town killed 31 people, including two medics, on Saturday, as a two-year local truce broke down after suspected Al-Qaeda militants killed a captured regime pilot.
The bombardment struck the town of Jayrud, 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Damascus, where the army says Islamist rebels killed the pilot after he was forced to eject on Friday.
In its statement about the incident, the military said the attack "will not go unpunished."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday`s attack was the first bombardment of the town in at least two years.
"Prominent figures in Jayrud have had a local truce with the regime for at least two years, and neither fired on each other," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
He said at least 31 people were killed, including two medics. It was not immediately clear how many of the rest were civilians.
Activists in the town said the head of the local medical centre and several colleagues were killed.
"There have been at least 45 air strikes today. The town`s medical centre was hit and its director Amjad al-Danaf was killed," activist Abu Malek al-Jayrudi told AFP via the Internet.
He said the town is home to some 60,000 people and that the bombardment had not stopped since early Saturday.
Rebel groups in Jayrud include the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), the hardline Ahrar al-Sham, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
Jaish al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush said on Friday that Al-Nusra Front had executed the air force pilot.
Several government aircraft have been shot down by rebels or crashed because of technical faults since the civil war erupted five years ago.
According to the Observatory, three Syrian officers were killed on Friday when their helicopter crashed in the south, near territory held by the Islamic State jihadist group.
Abdel Rahman said government forces had managed to recover the bodies of the victims of the crash, the cause of which remained unclear.
"We don`t know if it was a technical issue or not, but the bodies are with the regime," Abdel Rahman said.
Dozens of local truces have been brokered between the myriad of armed groups fighting in Syria`s increasingly complex civil war.
But a nationwide ceasefire between government forces and non-jihadist rebels brokered by Moscow and Washington in February has been repeatedly violated by both sides.
US officials have accused Russia of not doing enough to rein in its ally President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow has countered that rebel groups that have failed to break ranks with Al-Qaeda and continue to fight alongside it are legitimate targets.
The civil war, which began with peaceful protests in 2011, has killed more than 280,000 people and driven millions from their homes.