BEIRUT -- A government airstrike on a bakery building in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people yesterday, activists said, casting a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country's civil war.
The strike on the town of Halfaya scattered bodies and debris on a street, and more than a dozen dead and wounded were trapped in tangled heap of dirt and rubble.
The attack appeared to be the government response to a new rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and villages north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area's towns to be "liberated" by rebel fighters, and activists saw yesterday's attack as payback.
"Halfaya was the first and biggest victory in the Hama countryside," said Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee via Skype. "That's why the regime is punishing them in this way."
The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed. That number is expected to rise, it said, because some 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.
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Amateur videos posted online yesterday show residents and armed rebels rushing to the scene. One stopped to cover a mound of human flesh lying in the street with his coat.
More than a dozen dead or seriously wounded people lay near a simple, concrete building, some in puddles of blood. Near its front wall, bodies jutted from a pile of dirt and rubble on the sidewalk. Rebels screamed in distress while trying to extract bodies, while others carried away the wounded.
It was unclear from the videos if the building was indeed a bakery. Nearly all the dead and wounded appeared to be men, some wore camouflage, raising the possibility that the jet had targeted a rebel gathering.
Brahimi has made little apparent progress toward ending Syria's crisis since assuming his post in September, mostly because the sides appear more interested in fighting it out than in sitting down for talks.
Brahimi did not speak publicly upon arriving in Damascus for a two-day mission, and it was unclear whether he would present new ideas to end the war.