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Residents flee fierce Aleppo clashes: watchdog

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and regime forces has sparked an exodus of residents from the Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern city of Aleppo, a watchdog group said on Sunday.

Violence also engulfed areas in and around Damascus, where children were among eight civilians killed in shelling of Kafar Batna village, while a missile slammed into Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus costing more casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog also reported that at least 140 people, including 56 civilians, were killed nationwide on Easter Sunday.

"The Sheikh Maqsud neighbourhood has seen a major exodus after shells hit the area, destroying several homes," the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

"Hundreds of cars carrying families were seen leaving the neighbourhood."

Battles have been raging in the strategic, predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood since Friday, as regime troops try to prevent rebels from advancing into the district.

The battles have killed so far at least 43 people, including 15 civilians, 19 soldiers and pro-regime fighters as well as nine rebels, the Observatory said.

Sheikh Maqsud sits atop a hill, with vantage points over all second city Aleppo and its capture would be a key victory for the rebels, allowing them to target districts still in regime hands.

On Saturday, the Observatory and Syrian state media reported that rebels had killed a pro-regime Sunni cleric in Sheikh Maqsud, dragging his body through the streets afterwards.

In other violence on Sunday, SANA reported that "armed terrorists groups" has "set fire to three oil wells in the province of Deir Ezzor, after a dispute between them on sharing stolen oil."

The agency also reported claims that rebels forces were responsible for a "massacre" late Saturday of at least 10 people in the town of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon, an accusation denied by opposition activists.

SANA said women and children were among those killed in a "new massacre" in the Burj neighbourhood of Tal Kalakh carried out by "terrorists" -- the regime's word of reference for rebels.

The Observatory, quoting activists, gave a toll of 11 dead, including eight women, and said they were "executed during a raid by regime forces in the Burj neighbourhood" of the town.

In Damascus province, a car bomb exploded at a rebel checkpoint, killing at least five rebel fighters, the group added.

Speaking in front of some 250,000 people from around the world gathered in the Vatican for Easter Mass, Pope Francis prayed for "dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort.

"How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?" he asked.

sah-ram/hkb/hc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130331/residents-flee-fierce-aleppo-clashes-watchdog-2