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Nation/World

July 22, 2013

Mortar shells hit market in Syria, kill 20

AMMAN, Jordan — Government troops fired mortar rounds that slammed into a main market in a town in northern Syria on Sunday, killing at least 20 civilians, activist groups said.

The mortar shells struck the town of Ariha, which is held mostly by opposition fighters, a few hours ahead of iftar, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, two opposition groups tracking the violence in Syria, said at least 20 people were killed including two children and two women. It was not immediately clear what triggered the shelling.

Also Sunday, state media said government forces killed nearly 50 rebels in an ambush near Damascus.

Separately, Kurdish rebels freed the local commander of an al-Qaida-linked group in a town near Syria’s northern border with Turkey in return for 300 Kurdish civilians detained by the group, as part of an agreement to end rebel infighting that erupted a day earlier in the region.

The commander in the town of Tal Abyad, who is known as Abu Musaab, was captured during intense fighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Kurdish militants late Saturday, the Observatory said. The Islamic fighters retaliated by rounding up civilians believed to be relatives of the Kurdish fighters to hold as bargaining chips.

Infighting between al-Qaida militants and more mainstream Syrian rebels, as well as between Kurds and Arabs, has grown more common in Syria in recent weeks — part of a power struggle that is undermining their efforts to topple President Bashar Assad.

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