A boy holds his baby sister saved from under rubble, who
survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces
loyal to Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo.
Thousands of people have fled a rebel-held town in Syria
after it was bombed and shelled in an operation that has
prompted fears of a major assault by ground troops, the United
The fighting came as peace talks in Geneva neared the end of
a second round with the government and opposition sides
sticking to their positions and as far from agreement as
Violence has spiralled as each side seeks the upper hand.
"Nearly 5,000 pople have been killed just since these talks
began," a senior U.S. official said in Geneva on Friday.
Military action in the town of Yabroud, in western Syria near
the border with Lebanon, would fit with the government's aim
of securing a corridor linking Damascus with President Bashar
al-Assad's heartland on the Mediterranean coast.
"We have received reports from within Syria that there have
been numerous aerial attacks and shelling along with a
military build-up around the town, suggesting a major assault
by land may be imminent," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert
Some estimates suggested as many as 40,000 to 50,000 people
were still in the town with thousands of others fleeing over
the last few days, he said.
Electricity was cut off on Wednesday and field hospitals are
short of medical supplies as scores of people require urgent
treatment, Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.
Failure to allow civilians to leave would amount to "grave
violations" of international humanitarian law by Damascus.
About 500 or 600 fleeing families have already arrived in
Arsal, Lebanon, and the U.N. refugee agency expects a big
influx across the border, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming
Al-Manar television, run by Assad's allies in the Lebanese
Shi'ite group Hezbollah, said the Syrian army had advanced in
the Yabroud area, seizing control of the town's main road and
a nearby border crossing it said was used for smuggling.
In Geneva, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told
delegates he plans to take the talks into a third round but
has not set a date for their resumption, opposition
negotiator Ahmad Jakal said.
Brahimi said there would be a further session of talks on
Saturday and he would fly to New York shortly to meet U.N.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Jakal told Reuters.
A senior Russian diplomat said Damascus was committed to
peace talks but would not discuss the creation of a
transitional governing body until its opponents pledge a
joint fight against "terrorism", the term Syria uses for the
The opposition meanwhile has insisted that talk of ending the
war, which has killed more than 130,000 people, is futile
without agreeing on the transitional government that would
oversee any peace deal.
"I would not say the negotiations are at a dead-end - they
haven't even started," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Gennady Gatilov said in Geneva, according to the Itar-Tass
news agency. "Unfortunately, the sides have not yet agreed an
Russia has been Assad's most powerful international supporter
during the conflict, using its veto in the U.N. Security
Council to block Western and Arab efforts to pressure his
government with condemnation and the threat of sanctions.
The senior U.S. official, who declined to be named said
Syria's government delegation had been "stonewalling every
step of the way" in the Geneva talks and Washington expected
Russia to pressure them to engage seriously in the peace
Adding to the gloom, sources involved in an international
plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons said Damascus had
relinquished just 11 percent so far and was set to miss a
politically-loaded deadline mid-year to destroy the
By agreeing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Assad
averted U.S. led missile strikes, the threat of which was
prompted by the Aug. 21 poison gas attack outside Damascus
that killed hundreds of women and children.
The only tangible achievement of the peace negotiations so
far has been a temporary ceasefire in Homs to allow in
humanitarian aid and to let people leave the city.
One man waiting among a group of evacuees from Homs for
questioning by Syrian security forces, Hodwan al-Masri, said
he knew he could not hide his identity.
"I am a known brigade commander, with my face all over social
media," he said.
Masri left the city in the hope of persuading the authorities
to let him go into exile. "All I need is 48 hours and I'll be
out of the country. I hope they let me go."
Males between 15 and 55 years old - of military age according
to the Syrian authorities - have been held in a school for
screening, raising fears they may be imprisoned, tortured or
Elsewhere, a car bomb killed at least 32 people the town of
al-Yadouda near the border with Jordan on Friday, including
10 rebel fighters and at least one child, the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Near Aleppo, an al Qaeda splinter group executed at least 21
people, including relatives of fighters from rival rebel
groups, the Observatory added, an incident that could worsen
infighting among enemies of Assad.