Syrian government artillery shells struck a village in the last rebel enclave in the country on Thursday, killing seven members of the same family, including four children, rescue workers and a war monitor said.
The shelling is part of an ongoing military escalation in the area in northwestern Syria, which had been under a ceasefire sponsored by Russia and Turkey since last year.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
So far it is unclear what caused the escalation, which prior to the attack had already killed at least 17 children this month, according to figures confirmed by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
The rescue workers in opposition areas, known as the White Helmets, said the shells landed in the village of Ibleen in southern Idlib province.
A mother and her four children were among the dead pulled out from under the rubble of a destroyed house. Seven other people were injured, according to the group.
Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the children’s grandfather and uncle were also among the killed. He said the father was injured in the attack.
According to the Observatory’s records, 21 people, including 11 children and six women, have been killed in government attacks on the rebel enclave since Saturday.
The army stepped up its bombing of the northwestern enclave when President Bashar al-Assad took the oath of office for a new term vowing to make “liberating those parts of the homeland that still need to be” one of his top priorities.
On the day Assad took the oath, attacks on the Idlib villages of Sarja and Ehsin killed 14 civilians, seven of them children.
Two days earlier shelling of Idlib and the town of Fuaa further north killed nine civilians, three of them children, the Observatory said.
The attack on Thursday came on the last day of the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday.
Syria’s government, which agreed to the Russia-Turkey negotiated truce last year, has pledged to restore control over territory it has lost during the 10-year conflict.
The truce in March 2020, covering the area home to nearly 4 million mostly displaced people, was negotiated between Turkey, which supports Syria’s opposition and has troops deployed in the area, and Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer.
At the time, it halted a crushing Russian-backed government air and ground campaign aimed at retaking the region.
Elsewhere in the country, Kurdish-led forces control a large swathe of the east after expelling the ISIL (ISIS) group from the region.