Air strikes thought to have been carried out by Russian jets on a rebel-held residential area in northwestern Syria have killed 44 civilians, a Britain-based monitor said on Friday.
Six children were among those killed when the strikes hit the Zardana area of Idlib province late Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Russian defence ministry dismissed the Observatory’s reports of strikes on Zardana as having ‘nothing to do with reality’, in a statement carried by the TASS news agency.
Zardana is largely controlled by Islamist rebels, with a small presence of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate.
An AFP correspondent at the scene saw volunteers with a crane still searching the rubble in the early morning.
Half a dozen men in civilian clothes helped carry a person in a black body bag away from the site of the strikes, which pulverised several buildings.
At night, dozens of wounded streamed in to the local hospital, including children, women, elderly people and rescue volunteers, the correspondent said.
Dust dashed with blood covered the twisted bodies of the dead.
Most of Idlib province is held by an array of Islamist and jihadist groups with only parts controlled by the Russian-backed government.
Since Russia intervened in its support in 2015, the government has regained control of around half of the country.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
The Observatory says it relies on sources inside Syria for its information, and determines who carried out strikes on the basis of flight patterns, and the type of aircraft and ammunition used.
Meanwhile, Islamic State group jihadists on Thursday killed 22 pro-regime fighters including 11 soldiers among them two officers, in surprise attacks in southern Syria, a monitor said.
Twelve jihadists also lost their lives in the assaults in the desert of the southern province of Sweida, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
These were the first attacks of their kind in the area, where no IS presence had been noted in more than a year, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The 22 pro-regime combattants killed also included nine Iranians and fighters belonging to pro-Iran Shiite militias, as well as two unidentified fighters, he said.
IS has ramped up its attacks against pro-regime forces since its fighters in May left their last stronghold near Damascus under an evacuation deal with the regime.
The new toll brings to 184 the number of pro-regime troops killed in more than two weeks of jihadist attacks across the country since May 22. At least 92 jihadists were killed during that same period.
IS in 2014 proclaimed a cross-border ‘caliphate’ in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, but has since lost most of that territory to separate offensives by Russia-backed regime troops and a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance.
The jihadists now control no more than three percent of Syria, the Observatory says, mostly in the eastern desert near the border with Iraq.
Earlier this week, IS assaults in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor killed 45 pro-regime fighters.
More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
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