Middle East

Syria conflict: Aleppo rocket attack 'kills at least 18'

Bloodstains are seen on the pavement as forces loyal to Syria"s President Bashar al-Assad and civilians gather at a site hit by rockets
Image caption State media called the attacks "terrorism"

A rocket attack on regime-held areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo has killed at least 18 people, activists have said.

Aleppo is split between government and opposition-held districts and has seen some of worst fighting of the conflict.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government has said President Bashar al-Assad should lead any transitional government agreed at peace talks due in January.

Such a government is envisaged as a result of the talks, but the opposition has rejected any role for Mr Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group with links to the opposition, said 18 people had been killed in the Aleppo attack, including 10 government soldiers.

The attack on the Furqan and Meridian neighbourhoods also wounded at least 30 people, the SOHR said.

The organisation said at least five government soldiers were among the dead.

More than two million Syrians have fled the country, according to the UN.

Since the start of unrest in March 2011, more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.

In the early months of the uprising Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, was largely spared the violence.

But the northern city became an battleground in summer 2012, and has since suffered extensive bloodshed.

Two weeks ago activists reported that at least 40 people had died in government air strikes in the city.

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Media captionLina Sinjab takes a look at who is involved in the Syria conflict

Prayers for nuns

Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said any transitional government agreed at the talks would be led by Mr Assad.

"He is the leader of the transitional phase, if reached, as he is the leader of Syria and the resistance in the region," he told Syrian television.

He went on to describe the Arab Spring as a "US project" that had failed.

Peace talks are scheduled to take place in Geneva on 22 January. Syria's main opposition coalition has said it will attend but has said it will not accept any outcome that leaves Mr Assad in power.

Earlier this week the UN's human rights chief said an inquiry has produced evidence that responsibility for war crimes in Syria extends to the "highest level", including President Bashar al-Assad.

Also on Wednesday, Pope Francis led prayers for 12 nuns from the St Tekla convent in the historic town of Maaloula.

"Two days ago they were taken away by force by armed men. We pray for these nuns,... and for all people who have been detained because of the conflict," he said.

Reports indicate that the nuns came under the custody of rebel fighters when they seized the town on Monday, although what exactly has happened to them or whether they have been removed from Maaloula is unclear.

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