A father and his three children were reportedly among at least 33 civilians killed in Russia’s first wave of air strikes in Syria.
The Kremlin has continued to insist its intervention is solely targeting Isis after politicians in the US and France accused Russian forces of attacking rebels fighting against the Syrian regime.
One of the areas allegedly hit by Vladimir Putin’s air force on Wednesday was the town of Rastan, in Homs province, which was a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the early days of the civil war and is reportedly still held by the opposition.
Witnesses said the “violent and ferocious attack” reduced buildings to rubble with no warning, believing the silent Russian fighter jets flew at higher altitudes than those used by the Syrian air force.
A doctor told Reuters 11 people were killed in Rastan, including three children and their father, who died along with two visitors when their home was hit.
“It was as if the house never was,” he said after treating casualties from the attack.
“We have been exposed to a wide range of weapons over the last five years, but what happened today was absolutely the most violent and ferocious, and the most comprehensive in the northern Homs countryside.
”As I speak to you now the mosque minarets are warning of planes in the sky and warning that gatherings of people should disperse.”
Social media users were sharing a picture of two sisters, named in unconfirmed reports as Malak and Rayan, who were reportedly killed.The photo and children’s names could not be independently verified.
The doctor and other witnesses in Rastan, 12 miles north of the city of Homs, based their claims of a Russian attack on the aircraft used, their manoeuvres and altitude, as well as the town being named among the Kremlin’s targets.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Russian jets hit “Isis dens” around the towns of Talbiseh, Rastan and Salamiyah north of the central city of Homs and several groups posted videos online appearing to show strikes on the towns.
But monitors have cautioned that even if the planes were Russian, they could have been among the fighters given to Assad’s forces by Mr Putin.
Eliot Higgins, the founder of citizen journalism website Bellingcat and a specialist on the conflict in Syria, said it was not possible to know whether Russians or Syrians were piloting the aircraft seen during bombings.
“The dozens of videos of the dead and injured coming from Tabliseh are definitely legitimate, the question is whether or not it can be proven Russian bombers were responsible as the local media centres are claiming,” he told The Independent.
Syrian opposition group the National Coalition was among those denouncing the Russian air strikes.
“All the targets in today's Russian air raids over northern Homs were civilian,” National Coalition president Khaled Khoja wrote on Twitter.
The US and its allies bombing Isis in Syria and Iraq have also been accused of killing civilians.
Several attacks carried out as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, which has seen more than 7,100 strikes so far, are under investigation.
While Russia has maintained its strikes hit eight Isis targets, destroying warehouses, weapons and vehicles, anti-Assad rebels claim the extremist group does not operate in the regions hit.
Rastan is located on a major motorway linking the city of Homs to Hama, 25 miles further north, and another town on the same road, Talbisa, was also reportedly hit by the Russian jets.
Homs governate is of vital strategic importance to Assad's control of western Syria, linking the capital in Damascus to the coastal area including Latakia and Tartous, where Russia operates a naval facility.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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