Syrian airstrike kills 9 near border with Lebanon

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Associated Press

Posted on August 3, 2013 at 7:36 AM

Updated Saturday, Aug 3 at 10:35 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes struck targets near the border with Lebanon on Saturday, killing at least nine people in the latest attack along the volatile border, the Lebanese state-run news agency and security officials said.

The warplanes targeted the rebel-held town of Yabroud inside Syria, just across from Lebanese villages housing Syrians who fled a government offensive in June, a Lebanese security official from the eastern Bekaa region said. Both sides in the Syrian civil war have allies and supply lines in Lebanon.

The official said the victims included six members of the same family, while 16 people were wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Also on Saturday, rebels captured an arms depot near Damascus, seizing weapons and ammunition from the regime, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that militants from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group led the assault on the depot in Qalamun district north of the capital. Militants seized caches of ammunition, rockets and anti-tank missiles, the Observatory said.

It was a rare battlefield success by the rebels in recent months. The government has been on the offensive in the country's heartland and has retaken territory, although rebels are sometimes reported to overrun military facilities and villages.

The Observatory relies on reports from a network of informants on the ground.

Syria's main opposition coalition meanwhile urged the release of a Catholic priest who disappeared Monday while visiting a rebel-held city dominated by Islamic groups in the country's northeast. The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said it was "deeply concerned" over the disappearance of Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest and a well-known figure in Syria.

"We urge all parties involved in the disappearance of Father Paolo to immediately come forward and release him," the coalition said in a statement released in Istanbul on Saturday. It described the priest as a "wise man of peace and compassion" who engaged in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and forged close ties with people all over Syria.

Activists said Dall'Oglio went to Raqqa to meet with al-Qaida-linked militants. The city, which fell to the rebels in early March, has seen tensions between the hard-liners and more moderate rebel groups over how to administer it.

Both rebels and pro-regime forces have abducted political foes, members of rival sects and wealthy families around Syria and others, including foreign journalists, to settle scores or for ransom.

Dall'Oglio is a critic of the regime of President Bashar Assad, which the rebels are fighting to overthrow. A year ago, the government expelled him from Syria, where he had lived for 30 years.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, in charge of the Holy See's office dealing with Eastern Churches, has expressed "closeness in prayer" to Dall'Oglio's fellow Jesuits over the "persistence of the uncertainty of the situation," the Vatican said Saturday.

Sandri's office said it was praying that "the war ends and peace is given back to beloved Syria and all the peoples of the Middle East."

Dall'Oglio is the third Christian cleric believed to have been kidnapped in northern Syria this year. In April, two Orthodox bishops were abducted and have not been heard from since their kidnapping. No group has publically claimed it is holding the clerics.

The statement said Sandri's office also recalled the "absolute silence that weighs on the fate of the two (Orthodox) bishops."

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.

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Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

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