BEIRUT: At least seven civilians, including five children, were killed on Tuesday by air strikes in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the last outside government control, a monitor said.
Regime and allied forces backed by Russian warplanes have been battling rebels for over a week in an area straddling the border between Idlib and Hama provinces.
The air strikes targeted the town of Khan Subul in the centre of Idlib province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“There were at least seven dead, five children and two women,” the Observatory said.
“We do not know if these were air strikes by the Syrian regime or the Russians,” Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
The regime push on the edge of Idlib province follows two months of sporadic fighting that the United Nations says has displaced more than 60,000 people.
“Displacement sites are reportedly overwhelmed. Some services are 400 per cent above their planned capacity to serve,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
An AFP correspondent said there were fresh clashes on Tuesday.
A column of white smoke could be seen rising into the sky after a regime air strike in the town of Al Tamana and rebels were firing artillery at regime positions.
Idlib province — currently dominated by a former Al Qaida affiliate — was one of four “de-escalation zones” agreed to help halt fighting around the country by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey.
The war in Syria has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests.
Meanwhile, two artillery shells from Syria hit Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay on Tuesday and Turkish border troops fired back, the state-run Anadolu agency said.
The shells came from an area of Syria controlled by forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad, Anadolu said, adding that there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties after the shells hit a rural area of the border district of Yayladagi.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Al Assad a terrorist and said it was impossible for peace efforts in Syria to continue if he did not leave power.
Turkey has demanded the removal of Al Assad from power and backed rebels fighting to overthrow him, but it had toned down its rhetoric since it started working with Al Assad’s allies Russia and Iran for a political resolution.
Turkey now says its main concerns in Syria are combating both Islamist militants and Kurdish YPG militia fighters it considers allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has fought a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.