Air strikes kill 44 in Syria’s Idlib
BEIRUT: Air strikes on a village in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province killed at least 44 people overnight, the highest death toll in a single attack on the region this year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.
The monitoring group said Russian war planes probably carried out the attacks. The Russian Defence Ministry later denied its war planes were involved, according to Russian news agencies.
Russia is Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s main ally in his war against an armed opposition, now in its seventh year.
The Observatory said the jets targeted the village of Zardana in northern rural Idlib overnight, killing 27 men, 11 women and six children.
The death toll is expected to increase, since some of the 60 injured in the strikes were in a critical condition, the Britain-based Observatory said. Rescue workers were still searching the rubble for survivors.
The Russian ministry was quoted as saying it had information about fighting between Nusra Front militants and opposition fighters involving heavy artillery fire in the past 24 hours.
The Observatory had reported on Wednesday night violent clashes in the village between local factions, but later said the destruction and resulting casualties were due to air strikes. Idlib, a region in northwestern Syria, remains the largest populated area of the country in the hands of insurgents fighting the Damascus government.
In recent years, tens of thousands of fighters and civilians have fled there from parts of the country the army has recaptured with the help of allies.
Also on Friday, the IS group seized parts of a key town on the Syrian-Iraqi border in a massive operation that further confirmed the militants remain a force on the ground.
IS used at least 10 suicide bombers in its offensive on Albu Kamal, which lies in he Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria and swiftly took several neighbourhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The offensive is the latest in a string of IS attacks which confirm predictions that the militant organisation would continue to be a threat even after the collapse of its “caliphate” last year.
At least 25 government and allied fighters were killed in the operation, one of the militants’ largest this year, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory.
“It’s the biggest attack on Albu Kamal since they lost it” in November 2017, he said.
“IS now controls several parts of the city. Fighting is ongoing in the centre,” he said, adding that at least 18 militants, including the suicide attackers, were also killed.
There was no immediate comment from the government camp.
Albu Kamal lies in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, about 440 kilometres east of the capital Damascus.