Seven members of one family have been killed in Syria‘s Idlib in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold, according to a war monitor and activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a woman and her six children were killed after an air raid hit their home in the village of Deir al-Sharqi in southern Idlib on Saturday.
The children were all under the age of 18 and included a 4-year-old, said the Britain-based war monitor. Their father survived because he was not home at the time of the bombing, it added.
The activist-operated Thiqa news agency also reported the casualties and showed images of rescuers attempting to extricate the body of a young boy trapped under the rubble.
A photographer collaborating with AFP news agency said he saw a man leaving the site of the blast carrying the corpse of a young girl.
A rescue worker carried the dust covered body of a second child, he added.
Syria’s Civil Defense, a volunteer rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said Deir al-Sharqi was hit with four air raids that resulted in the killing of the Hammoud family.
By early afternoon on Saturday, the Civil Defense team said it had recorded 31 attacks in the area, including 18 suspected Russian airstrikes.
The deaths in Deir al-Sharqi came a day after at least 13 people were killed in an air raid on a displacement camp in the village of al-Haas.
The dead included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, local activists said. They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area.
Syrian troops, backed by Russia, launched the offensive to retake Idlib and surrounding rebel-held areas in late April. The region in northwestern Syria is home to three million people and is part of the last major foothold of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
The United Nations has been calling for respecting the lives of civilians as well as medical and humanitarian workers, saying that the death toll is “rising every day”.
In the past four months, the UN documented 500 civilian deaths and said 42 attacks on health care facilities were reported.
Ahmad al-Dbis, safety and security manager for the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, said the bombardment had widened into populated areas where there were no military positions.
“They are being targeted to drive the people toward forced displacement,” he told Reuters.
Dbis said the number of civilians killed by Syrian government or Russian forces stood at more than 730 since late April.
Russia and Syria say their forces were targeting rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and not civilians. State media reported that two dozen rebel fighters were killed in southern Idlib on Saturday during clashes.
Over the past week, Syrian forces have advanced on the southern edges of Idlib province, with the aim of capturing the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which lies on a key highway that connects government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo.
Air raids on the area have intensified in recent days after a short-lived ceasefire.
The UN said the upsurge in violence has displaced more than 400,000 people.
“Many of these people have been displaced up to five times,” the UN’s regional spokesman for the Syria crisis, David Swanson, told AFP on Saturday.
“Ongoing clashes, shelling and air strikes, including the use of barrel bombs, continue unabated” and were hindering aid operations, he added.
France called on Friday for an immediate end to the fighting. The French foreign ministry added that it condemned in particular air strikes on camps for the displaced.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad government cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, the conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad.