Middle East

Azaz air strike in Syria leaves '30 dead'

Syrian warplanes have attacked the northern town of Azaz near Aleppo, killing 30 people and wounding many more, activists say.

Rescuers scoured the rubble in search of survivors and casualties were taken to a nearby field hospital as well as to the Turkish border for treatment.

There are growing fears that tensions from the Syrian conflict have begun to spill over into neighbouring Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to leave because of the risk of abduction.

A Shia Muslim clan said on Wednesday that it had kidnapped 20 Syrians in Lebanon in retaliation for the abduction of a Lebanese kidnapped by rebels in Damascus on Monday.

The rebels claimed Hassan al-Meqdad was a member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an allegation denied by Hezbollah.

A group of 11 Lebanese hostages was among those caught up in Wednesday's air strike on Azaz. Four of the group were reported missing after the attack, while the others were said to be wounded.

"The building they were in was hit," a rebel commander told a Lebanese TV channel.

A journalist working for AFP news agency spoke of a large area involving around 10 homes being flattened. Dozens of people screamed and wailed as they searched for survivors in the rubble.

"All the houses were full of women and children who were asleep because of the Ramadan fast," a 50-year-old man told AFP.

Azaz is a few miles south of the Turkish border and some 30 miles (48km) north of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city where the army is trying to claw back areas of the city taken over by rebels.

It was unclear whether opposition forces were in Azaz, although an Associated Press reporter said the rebels had offices not far away.

'Systematic violations'

The latest assault by Syrian forces coincided with a report by UN investigators that accused the army and pro-government shabiha militia of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In particular, their report concluded they had been behind the 25 May Houla massacre in which 108 people died, including 49 children.

The massacre, in the village of Taldou, was considered one of the worst attacks on civilians since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

The inquiry, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, said war crimes had been carried out by both opposition groups and government forces.

It found opposition forces guilty of war crimes but not of the same gravity or on the same frequency or scale as those blamed on government forces.

The 102-page report alleged that systematic violations such as murder, torture and sexual violence had been authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

Although President Bashar al-Assad's government did not allow the team into Syria, the investigators spoke to almost 700 people, including civilians and former soldiers who have fled to neighbouring UN blames Syria for Houla deaths countries.

The report's publication came hours after an explosion in central Damascus near a hotel where UN observers have been staying.

At least three people were hurt when a bomb attached to a diesel tanker blew up, state media reported.