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Syria strikes kill 15 civilians after militant attack — monitor

By AFP - Jun 11,2018 - Last updated at Jun 11,2018

Destroyed vehicles are seen after Assad regime forces carried out an air strike over a children's hospital, located at the de-escalation zone Taftanaz town of Idlib, Syria, on Sunday (Anadolu Agency photo)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fifteen Syrian civilians were killed on Sunday in regime strikes in the country's northwest, a monitor said, in apparent retaliation for an extremist attack on two besieged government-held villages.

The bombing raids hit a string of towns and villages in the northwest province of Idlib, which is almost entirely controlled by various militant and hardline rebels. 

In the town of Taftanaz the strikes killed 10 civilians, including four children, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said strikes had also hit near a children's hospital, putting it out of service.

Five other civilians were killed in other raids nearby. 

The air strikes came a day after militants from Al Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate launched an attack on Fuaa and Kafraya, two villages held by the regime but cut off by hardline forces. 

Late Saturday, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) and allied fighters shelled Fuaa and Kafraya heavily and clashed with local fighters. 

"This is the fiercest attack in around three years," said Abdel Rahman. 

Six Syrian pro-regime fighters and at least three from HTS were killed in the fighting, which continued on Sunday.

Syrian state news agency SANA also reported Saturday's attack, and said local fighters were able to push back the militants.

Fuaa and Kafraya are the only two places in Syria currently designated as besieged by the United Nations after the government recaptured the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.

The villages are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shiite Muslims.

They came under siege in 2015, when rebels ousted regime forces from a vast majority of Idlib province.

Since then, the mainstream opposition’s influence has dwindled as extremists solidified their grip on the province, and regime forces have recaptured an eastern sliver of Idlib.

HTS and its allies control around 60 per cent of the province, its local rivals hold about a third, and the regime controls about 10 per cent, according to the observatory.

Now, even the Daesh militant group is conducting hit-and-run attacks in Idlib against its HTS rival.

Last week, clashes between HTS and a Daesh sleeper cell made up of Iraqi extremists left more than two dozen fighters dead, mostly from Daesh. 

In retaliation, the Daesh cell executed five HTS fighters it had abducted in Idlib, the observatory said. HTS also killed six Daesh members it had captured in the clashes.

Siege tactics have been used throughout Syria’s seven-year conflict, mostly by the government. 

Troops have employed the tactic alongside heavy bombing to cut off food and medicine to rebel-held areas, then coerce people to agree to leave in population transfers. 

Idlib, which lies on the border with Turkey, has seen its population balloon to around 2 million people in recent years as fighters and civilians evacuated from other opposition areas are dumped there. 

It was designated last year as a de-escalation zone, but violence has been creeping up again.

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