Air strikes kill at least 27 in rebel-held city in Syria, rescuers say
The strikes targeted a popular market and residential areas in Maarat Al Numan
Air strikes on one of the main opposition-held cities in north-western Syria killed at least 27 people on Monday, according to a monitoring group and rescuers.
The strikes targeted a popular market and residential areas in Maarat Al Numan, a city in the south of the north-western province of Idlib.
They were believed to have been carried out by Syrian or Russian jets. Moscow, however, denied it was responsible, calling the reports "fake".
Busy marketplaces and residential areas have been a frequent target of the campaign waged by Russia and Syria since the end of April. Assaults on civilian areas have killed hundreds, rescuers said.
The spike in violence has killed more than 650 civilians, caused tens of thousands to flee their homes, and damaged or knocked out of service two dozen health facilities.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths increased the number of civilians killed by Syrian government or Russian bombardments in the north-west to 682 since late April. It said 53 civilians were killed by rebel attacks on state-held areas in the same period.
Some 1,500 combatants on both sides have been killed in the same period, it said.
Syrian state news agency Sana said the Syrian army had repelled an attack by militant groups that had targeted army positions protecting the village of Al Qasabiya in southern Idlib.
Residents and local and international aid agencies that support the rebel-held areas say the sustained campaign paralysed everyday life in opposition areas.
The Russian-backed offensive has so far failed to make major inroads into rebel territory in northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces, where mainstream rebels backed by Turkey alongside militant fighters are putting up fierce resistance in their last remaining bastion in Syria.
Russian and the Syrian army deny allegations of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they are fighting Al Qaeda-inspired militants.
The latest strikes came on the same day that Pope Francis expressed concern for the humanitarian situation in north-western Syria and urged a negotiated end to years of fighting, in a letter delivered on Monday to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The Vatican said the letter was handed over by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who heads the Vatican department for promoting human development.
The letter called for the safe return of millions displaced by years of fighting, the humane treatment of political prisoners and the resumption of negotiations to seek a political solution to the conflict.
"At the heart of this new initiative lies Pope Francis' and the Holy See's concern for the emergency humanitarian situation in Syria, in particular in Idlib Province," Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a statement.
Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
Updated: July 22, 2019 05:15 PM