Air raids by Syrian government and Russian forces have killed at least 18 people in the last major rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, according to rescue workers who operate in opposition-held areas.
Attacks on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks as the government appears to be preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once a commercial centre.
The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, said at least 18 people were killed on Saturday in Idlib, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, put the death toll at 20.
At least 18 people have been killed since the morning, including children and entire families, by brutal raids via Russian and regime warplanes and helicopters. Villages and town centers in Jabal al-Zawiya #Idlib were targeted creating a despicable massacre of innocents.
“At least 18 people have been killed since the morning, including children and entire families, by brutal raids via Russian and regime warplanes and helicopters,” the White Helmets, wrote in a tweet on Saturday.
“Villages and town centers in Jabal al-Zawiya #Idlib were targeted creating a despicable massacre of innocents.”
The largest number of casualties occurred in the village of Balyoun, where the White Helmets said eight people were killed while four people, including a child and two women, were killed in air raids on the rebel-held village of Bara.
The volunteer rescuers said five people were killed in the village of Ibdeita and a child died in a nearby village.
Syrian state media carried no reports of military operations by the Syrian army or its Russian ally in those areas on Saturday.
The Observatory said eight children were among the dead.
The more than eight-year war in Syria has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s pre-war population.
Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
A fragile ceasefire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.
President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recover “every inch” of Syria, which descended into a multi-sided conflict after the eruption of protests against his rule in 2011.