Children among eight killed in Syria as missile hits school
Wed 25 Dec 2019
UN estimates 60,000 people have fled from last opposition-held province of Idlib after bombings intensified this month.
At least eight people, including five children, were killed on Tuesday as missiles hit a school in northwest Syria sheltering displaced civilians, a monitor and opposition activists said. The strikes targeted the village of Jobas near the town of Saraqeb in southern Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the war-torn country. Syrian government troops also besieged a Turkish observation post in the area but have not attacked it so far, opposition activists said. Syrian forces launched a wide ground offensive last week in the northwest, after weeks of bombardment that displaced tens of the thousands of people in Idlib province. Opposition activists say more than 40 villages and hamlets are now under government control in southern parts of Idlib. The United Nations estimates that some 60,000 people have fled from the area, heading south, after the bombings intensified earlier this month. Thousands more have fled further north towards the Turkish border in recent days. The activists blamed Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally in the war, for Tuesday's missile attack that hit the Jobas village school. Five children and a woman were among the dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian citizen journalist Hussein Khattab reported the same death toll. Syrian troops have been pushing towards the rebel-held town of Maarat al-Numan that sits on a highway linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Assad's forces appear determined to eventually reopen the strategic highway, which has been closed by the rebels since 2012. The observatory said the troops are now about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from Maarat al-Numan, adding that government forces advancing from the east have surrounded the Turkish observation post near the village of Surman. Turkey said Tuesday that it was talking to Russia with the aim of reaching a new ceasefire after increased bombardment in Idlib province. "We are closely following the process for an end to the attacks, and these attacks should come to an end immediately and implemented under a new ceasefire," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told a televised news conference. "This is our main expectation from the Russian side." Turkey is a strong backer of Syrian rebels and has 12 observation posts in northwest Syria as part of an agreement brokered last year with Russia. The post near Surman is the second that has been encircled by Syrian troops this year. In their push towards Maarat al-Numan, Syrian troops captured late Monday the village of Jarjanaz, a stronghold of al-Qaeda. Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked fighters. It is also home to three million civilians and the UN has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.