IDLIB: Russian airstrikes killed at least 13 people in rebel-held northwest Syria on Sunday, the deadliest attack on the war-torn country this year, a war monitor said.
At least nine civilians, including two children, were among the dead, with most killed at a fruit and vegetable market in Jisr Al-Shugur in the Idlib region.
“These Russian strikes are the deadliest in Syria this year and amount to a massacre,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Russian forces which back President Bashar Assad’s regime were responding to rebel drone strikes over the past week that killed four civilians including two children, according to the observatory.
Saad Fato, a 35-year-old laborer who survived the strike on the market, said he helped efforts to try to rescue the wounded.
“Russians shells rained on us,” he said, recounting that he was unloading tomatoes and cucumbers at the time of the attack.
“It was indescribable, seeing the dead, the wounded,” he said, his hands still covered with the blood of casualties.
A correspondent at the scene saw plumes of black smoke rising from the site and ambulances, their sirens wailing, rush the wounded from the market to hospital.
Six civilians died in Jisr Al-Shughur and three rebel fighters were killed nearby by Russian airstrikes, said Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.
Another three civilians, including two children, and one rebel fighter were killed in a strike on the outskirts of Idlib city, said Abdel Rahman.
That fighter was a member of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur-dominated jihadist group, he said, adding that the parents of the dead children also belonged to that group.
At least 30 civilians were wounded in Sunday’s strikes, said Abdel Rahman, who added that the death toll was likely to rise.
Ahmed Yazigi of the civil defense in Jisr Al-Shughur earlier reported that the strikes killed nine people, without specifying whether the toll included fighters.
Yazigi called the assault “a direct attack on the popular market which provides a basic source of income for farmers.”
The Assad regime, with Russian and Iranian support, has clawed back much of the ground lost early in Syria’s conflict which erupted in 2011 when it brutally repressed pro-democracy protests.
Russia has over the years repeatedly struck Syria’s last pocket of armed opposition to the regime in the northwest.
But deadly attacks on civilians had been limited so far this year until the latest Russian strikes.
On Saturday, a Russian airstrike killed two civilians in the Idlib region.