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Syrian air force on the offensive

Syrian air force offensive after plans for a four day truce backfired, badly.

An image grab that was taken from a video uploaded on YouTube showing a burning Syrian combat helicopter crashing. Picture: AFP

AMMAN - Syrian warplanes bombed rebel targets with renewed intensity on Tuesday after the end of a widely ignored four-day truce between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and insurgents.

State television said "terrorists" had assassinated an air force general, Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khalidi, in a Damascus suburb, the latest of several rebel attacks on senior officials.

In July, a bomb killed four of Assad's aides, including his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and the defence minister.

Air strikes hit eastern suburbs of Damascus, outlying areas in the central city of Homs, and the northern rebel-held town of Maarat al-Numan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, activists said.

Rebels have been attacking army bases in al-Hamdaniya and Wadi al-Deif, on the outskirts of Maarat al-Numan.

Some activists said 28 civilians had been killed in Maarat al-Numan and released video footage of men retrieving a toddler's body from a flattened building. The men cursed Assad as they dragged the dead girl, wearing a colourful overall, from the debris. The footage could not be independently verified.

The military has shelled and bombed Maarat al-Numan, 300 km (190 miles) north of Damascus, since rebels took it last month.

"The rebels have evacuated their positions inside Maarat al-Numaan since the air raids began. They are mostly on the frontline south of the town," activist Mohammed Kanaan said.

Maarat al-Numan and other Sunni towns in north-western Idlib province are mostly hostile to Assad's ruling system, dominated by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Two rebels were killed and 10 wounded in an air strike on al-Mubarkiyeh, 6 km (4 miles) south of Homs, where rebels have besieged a compound guarding a tank maintenance facility.

Opposition sources said the facility had been used to shell Sunni villages near the Lebanese border.