Syrian government shelling has killed at least a dozen people in rebel-held Idlib, according to rescue workers, the latest violence to threaten a Russia-Turkey brokered truce in the northwestern region.
The bombardment on Thursday killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more in the town of Kafr Nabl, where one missile hit a market, said Obada Dhikra, the director of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets.
The number of dead could rise due to the severity of the injuries, he added.
Those killed included two women and a child, the Al Araby news website reported, citing an unnamed White Helmet worker.
Separately, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government shelling had killed 17 other civilians in the past 24 hours in different locations of the northwest. The war monitor said half of the dead were under the age of 18.
The northwest, home to about three million people, represents the last big piece of territory held by rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Last year, the Syrian government, backed in the war by Russia and Iran, was poised to mount a major offensive into parts of the northwest, including Idlib and adjoining parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, raising concerns of a humanitarian catastrophe.
But the attack was postponed after Moscow struck a deal with Ankara that included the creation of a “demilitarised zone” in the region. Russia is the government’s strongest ally and Turkey backs some rebel groups and has troops on the ground in the northwest.
The United Nations humanitarian office said that the escalating violence had already killed 90 civilians in the Idlib region in March, nearly half of them children.
More than 86,500 people fled their homes in February and March as a result of the escalation, it added.
The UN also expressed concern over “increased shelling along front lines, an intensification of air raids and a growing number of attacks involving improvised explosive devices in urban areas.”
Speaking at a news conference in Damascus on Thursday, Walid al-Mouallem, Syria’s foreign minister, said his government was growing impatient to recapture Idlib, the last region outside its control apart from the Kurdish-held north and northeast where the United States retains a troop presence.
Muallem said Turkey had failed to ensure the withdrawal of armed opposition groups from a planned buffer zone along the front line as stipulated by the truce agreed in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“It is known that Turkey is responsible for a delay in implementing” the deal, he said, adding: “Honestly, we are still waiting for the Sochi deal to be implemented but our patience has its limits and we must liberate this land.”
He warned: “We are losing patience.”
More than half of the population of the Idlib region have already fled government offensives on other rebel-held regions of Syria.
Many live in tent cities where they are dependent on humanitarian aid and deeply vulnerable to a resurgence of all-out conflict.
At least 370,000 people have died in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011.