Syrian rebels fired mortar rounds at one of President Bahsar al-Assad’s palaces in Damascus on Tuesday, February 19, as the death toll climbed to at least 31 from a separate missile strike late Monday in the northern commercial city of Aleppo.
The palace attack is the first strike confirmed by the government close to a presidential building, and is widely seen as further evidence that Syria’s civil war is reaching areas of the capital once considered safe. The state-run SANA news agency reported no casualties at the Tishreen palace and the rebel Free Syrian Army later claimed credit for the attack.
In Aleppo, meanwhile, 14 children and five women were reported among the dead, with amateur video showing dozens of residents working Tuesday to locate and identify victims in the city’s Jabal Badro district.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quotes witnesses as saying no planes were overhead when the missile struck, and said the degree of destruction suggested a strike by a surface-to-surface missile.
Meanwhile, Russian and Western news reports say Moscow has dispatched two transport planes and four large naval landing ships to Syrian coastal waters to evacuate its nationals wanting to leave the war-torn country.
Russia’s defense ministry said the ships were assigned to military service, while providing no further details. However, a Russian military source told the official Ria Novosti news agency it can be assumed they will be taking part in a possible evacuation.
Separately, the United Nations’ World Health Organization renewed warnings Tuesday about a typhoid outbreak affecting some 2,500 people in rebel-held areas of the country’s northeast.
Typhoid is a bacterial disease that spreads as a result of contact with contaminated food or drink.
The WHO said ongoing fighting has cut off access to electricity and clean water, forcing many people to drink water from the sewage-contaminated Euphrates River.
The United Nations estimates 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011 and broadened into civil war.
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