Syria war: ‘Massacre’ as rescue workers say nearly 160 bombs kill 20 civilians in single day

At least two children believed to be among the dead

Gemma Fox
Deputy International Editor
Thursday 16 January 2020 16:07 GMT
Syria war: ‘Massacre’ as rescue workers say nearly 160 bombs kill 20 civilians in single day

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The Syrian government and its allies dropped 157 bombs over Idlib province in a single day, killing at least 20 civilians – including children – and levelling homes and shops, according to rescue workers and a monitoring group.

The attacks were described as a “massacre” by Syria Civil Defence (SCD), also known as the White Helmets, who warned that the death toll could rise further as more bodies were pulled from the rubble.

“Twenty civilians were killed and 82 others wounded on Wednesday by Russian warplanes and Assad’s helicopters bombing villages and towns of the southern countryside of Idlib, committing two massacres in the city,” spokesperson Ahmed Sheiko told The Independent.

Warplanes targeted civilians who had gathered at a busy vegetable market and nearby shops in the town of Ariha, killing at least 19 people, including two children, Mr Sheiko said. A young man was also killed in regime raids on Hass town centre, south of Idlib.

In a video posted online, rescue workers can be seen struggling to pull a child out from under the rubble.

“Our teams fought with all their might to retrieve him alive, but death was faster for him than us,” the SCD wrote on Twitter.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict using a network of sources inside the country, said that the Assad regime and the Russian air force dropped 157 bombs across Idlib, including 28 barrel bombs.

The latest round of bloodshed comes after a ceasefire agreement was signed on Sunday between the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Turkey, which backs the rebels.

“Russia proves again its disrespect to any ceasefire in Syria, and that the recent agreement with Turkey, in its fourth day, is nothing but a repetitive scenario of similar failing agreements. With continuing the artillery and aerial bombardment by Russia, the ceasefire has come to an end,” Khaled Khatib, of the White Helmets, told The Independent from inside Ariha.

Despite a string of ceasefires brokered between Mr Assad, Russia and Turkey, the area has witnessed an uptick in violence as the regime renews hostilities against the country’s final area of opposition control.

On Thursday, the United Nations sounded the alarm over the "escalating hostility" in Idlib that it says has displaced about 350,000 people since Mr Assad’s government renewed its offensive against the area on 1 December.

The vast majority – 80 per cent – are believed to be women and children, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.

Many are having to shelter in border areas near Turkey, unable to cross. Rescue workers said that many towns and villages south of Idlib, close to the frontlines, are now empty.

“An unstable security situation prevails, with daily reports of bombardments, affecting civilian infrastructure, such as schools and IDP camps,” the statement said.

It warned that this is having a perilous impact on those trapped between regime airstrikes, rebel groups and a hostile border with Turkey.

“Four million people live in northwest Syria, of which 2.8 million are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance,” it continued.

“Women and children are estimated to make up 76 per cent of this population.”

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