Apr 24, 7:54 AM EDT

Activists: Syrian airstrikes in north kill 18

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BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government airstrikes targeted a vegetable market in a rebel-held town in the northern Aleppo province on Thursday, killing at least 18 people and wounding scores of others, opposition activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets hit the crowded market in the town of Atareb in the morning hours.

The Observatory, which documents the Syrian conflict through a network of activists on the ground said the death toll is likely to rise because many of the victims were seriously wounded.

Another activists group, the Syria-based Local Coordination Committees also reported the airstrikes on Atareb, saying that 24 people were killed. The discrepancy in the death toll is not unusual in the immediate aftermath of such large attacks.

Atareb is located near the city of Aleppo, Syria's largest urban center and its former commercial hub. Aleppo has been a major battleground in the civil war since the rebels launched an offensive there in the summer of 2012, capturing whole neighborhoods of the city, its sprawling suburbs and large swaths of land along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against the President Bashar Assad's rule. It turned into a civil war after some opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown. The fighting has taken increasingly sectarian overtones, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect in Shiite Islam.

More than 150,000 people have been killed so far, activists say, and a millions have been driven out of their homes.

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