Airstrike kills dozens of militants in Syria's Idlib, shaking ceasefire

Campbell MacDiarmid
A fighter from Syrian rebel faction Faylaq al-Sham fires in the air at the funeral for 10 of his comrades in Idlib province, following their death in an air strike - AFP
A fighter from Syrian rebel faction Faylaq al-Sham fires in the air at the funeral for 10 of his comrades in Idlib province, following their death in an air strike - AFP

An airstrike on a rebel base in northwest Syria on Monday killed at least 35 Turkey-backed fighters, according to a spokesman and a war monitor, in what is believed to be the deadliest attack since a ceasefire in Idlib began nearly eight months ago.

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition Youssef Hammoud said the attack targeted a training camp for Faylaq al-Sham in northwest Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria.

The opposition blamed government ally Russia for the daytime attack on the largest and one of the best trained militias supported by Turkey.

There was no immediate comment from Ankara or Moscow, which support opposite sides in Syria’s civil war but brokered a ceasefire that halted a Syrian government offensive to retake Idlib that has mostly held since entering into force in March.

Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a higher death toll, saying 78 people were killed and more than 90 wounded in the attack, which it also believed was carried out by Russia.

The high death toll for the attack was reportedly due to it targeting a training programme for new recruits at the camp, at Jebel al-Dweila close to the Turkish border.

Grainy aerial images purportedly of the strike showed a parade ground formation of people being struck by an explosion. Other footage shared online showed rows of bodies covered in blankets.

It was not possible to independently verify the images, and the Associated Press reported that journalists on the ground were kept away from the site of the attack. 

According to Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, the attack was the deadliest Russian air strike since Moscow entered the conflict in 2015. Human Rights Watch recently accused Russia of war crimes over its aerial campaign in Syria.

On Thursday, the United States said it carried out a drone strike against a group of Al-Qaeda leaders in Idlib, which the Observatory said killed 17 militants.