Air attacks by Syrian government ally Russia have killed 10 civilians, including five children, in an opposition-held province in northwest Syria, activists and a monitor have said, hours after Moscow announced a ceasefire.
The Russian army said the air raids overnight Sunday on the town of Kafranbel, in Idlib province, came after it pinpointed the area as the launchpad for rocket fire on its key Syria airbase of Hmeimim.
Last September, Russia and Turkey, which backs some armed groups in the region, agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression would be expressly prohibited.
The Syrian government and its allies, however, have launched a number of attacks inside the de-escalation zone since late April, prompting the UN to warn of a potential humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region.
The Syria Civil Defence organisation, also known as the White Helmets, said five children were among 10 civilians killed in air raids overnight Sunday in Kafranbel, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the same death toll, which it said included four women and one man.
The raids hit near a hospital in the town, knocking it out of service, the Britain-based monitor said.
An AFP correspondent saw five homes on the edges on the town that were destroyed or damaged after the attacks.
Survivors picked through the debris to save the belongings they could, the reporter said, while a young man covered in dust from head to toe leant against a wall in shock, after his father was killed.
Umm Wasel narrowly missed the air raid on her home after relatives invited her over to break her daily fast of the Islamic month of Ramadan with them.
“I came back at night to find my home devastated,” said the 72-year-old, dressed in a long red robe and a black scarf covering her hair.
People “had thought I was under the rubble”, she said.
Children killed at school
International rights group Save the Children on Monday said 38 children have been killed in shelling in northwest Syria since April 1, including nine at school, seven at the market and one in hospital.
“Schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure must be protected from attack,” the charity’s Syria director Sonia Khush said.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of explosive weapons, and warring parties should make a particular effort to protect them,” she said.
On Monday, Turkish and Russian top defence officials discussed over the phone the latest developments in Idlib, according to an official statement.
Turkey’s defence ministry said the discussion included measures to reduce tension in the area.
At least 167 civilians have lost their lives in Idlib since April 25, with more than 415 civilians injured, according to civil defence sources.
Some three million people currently reside in Idlib province, around half of whom are displaced from other parts of the civil war-torn country.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions inside Syria and abroad since it began in March 2011 with a crackdown on anti-government protests.