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Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens

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Air strikes have killed more than two dozen civilians in northwestern Syria in the last two days in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold, a war monitor and local activists said on Saturday.

An air strike in the village of Deir Sharki killed seven members of one family, most of them children, on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Another seven people were killed by bombardments in other areas, it said.

On Friday, air strikes in the village of al-Haas killed 13 people. The dead included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, local activists and the Observatory said. They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area.

The bombardment forced a wave of people to flee northwards from the targeted areas, the Observatory and local activists said.

“They are bombing the towns and their outskirts to push people to flee,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said, adding that hundreds of families had been uprooted from areas that had so far largely been spared in the almost four-month offensive.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said the army was continuing operations against “the terrorist organisations in rural Idlib” and had widened its area of control around the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, currently a focal point of the offensive.

Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians but militants including the Nusra Front, a jihadist group known today as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
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