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Russian strikes kill 15 civilians in northwest Syria: monitor

The strikes after midnight targeted an area where displaced Syrians had gathered outside the town of Maaret Misrin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the "White Helmets", and civilians check the rubble of a building in the town of Maaret Misrin following Syrian government forces airstrikes on 5 March 2020 in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Picture: AFP

MAARET MISRIN, Syria - Russian airstrikes Thursday killed at least 15 civilians including a child in Syria's last major opposition bastion of Idlib, a Britain-based war monitor said.

The strikes after midnight targeted an area where displaced Syrians had gathered outside the town of Maaret Misrin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An AFP correspondent saw the bodies of some of the victims wrapped in thick winter blankets at a local hospital.

A rescuer carried in the body of a baby girl, her pink pyjamas caked in dust.

At the site of the strikes, two large one-storey buildings lay mostly in rubble near green orchards, and rescuers operated bulldozers to comb through the debris.

The strikes destroyed the poultry farm where the displaced families had been living, and dozens of chickens could be seen picking through the dust.

The Observatory said the death toll was likely to rise further as many wounded were in critical condition.

The strikes come on the day the leaders of Russia and Turkey were meeting in Moscow to discuss the situation in Idlib. Ankara backs some rebel groups in the northwestern region and has become directly involved in fighting in recent weeks.

Moscow-backed regime forces have since December waged a deadly battle against the jihadist-dominated Idlib region, causing almost a million people - mostly women and children - to flee their homes and shelters.

Even before that offensive, Idlib was home to three million people, around half of them already displaced from other parts of the war-torn country.

The Observatory says it determines what plane carried out a strike according to flight patterns as well as the munitions and aircraft involved.

The violence since December has killed almost 500 civilians, the Observatory says.

Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.