More than 36 Syrian civilians killed in Idlib 'by Russian and Assad regime strikes'

Raf Sanchez
Members of the Syrian civil defence, known as the White Helmets, pull out an injured Syrian child from under the rubble following a reported Russian air strike - AFP

Dozens of civilians, including at least five children, have been killed in recent days as Russia and the Assad regime stepped up their assault on the rebel-held province of Idlib. 

At least 59 civilians were killed in strikes on Monday, according to the UN, in one of the most intensive days of bombardment since the regime offensive began three months ago. 

The bloodiest airstrikes fell on the market town of Maaret al-Numan, where around 40 people died, including eight women and five children, the UN said. 

The explosions tore through vegetable stalls and buried civilians in rubble, leaving frantic rescue workers to dig out the bodies of men, women, and children. 

“The nightmare in Idleb is getting worse,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator for Syria. “Many of the victims were women and children, some of them suffering the most horrific injuries.”

A member of the Syrian civil defence, known as the White Helmets, rests atop an excavator after participating in a search for victims under the rubble of buildings Credit: ABDULAZIZ KETAZ/AFP/Getty Images

The airstrike on Maaret al-Numan was carried out by a Russian warplane, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Russia denied responsibility, saying its aircraft were “not carrying out any missions in this part of Syria”.

Assad regime forces, backed by Shia militias and Russian airpower, have been fighting since April to seize control of Idlib, the last Syrian province still in rebel hands. 

But Syrian troops have so far made relatively little progress against rebel fighters, who are led by the al-Qaeda linked jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). 

Around 3 million civilians have sought shelter in Idlib, many after fleeing from other parts of Syria. The UN has warned of a major humanitarian catastrophe if Assad’s troops launch an all-out assault on the province.

A member of the Syrian civil defence, known as the White Helmets, helps an injured Syrian child after pulling him out from under the rubble  Credit: OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, at least six people were injured in southern Turkey by a rocket fired from Syria. 

The Turkish defence ministry said the rocket was fired from Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria and said Turkey struck seven targets in the area in retaliation. 

Western-backed Kurdish forces, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), control parts of northeast Syria. Turkey considers them to be part of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist group.