At Least 50 Killed in Airstrikes, Including Children, on Syria's Idlib Province

Meanwhile, Assad forces tell rebels in Aleppo to leave or face 'inevitable death' as they advance into the Old City.

The Associated Press
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Men evacuate a victim from a building following an airstrike on the village of Maaret al-Numan, Idlib, Syria, December 4, 2016.
Men evacuate a victim from a building following an airstrike on the village of Maaret al-Numan, Idlib, Syria, December 4, 2016.Credit: Mohamed al-Bakour, AFP
The Associated Press

At least 50 people, including several children, were killed in a series of airstrikes on Idlib province in Syria on Sunday as the army ordered rebels in neighboring Aleppo to leave the city or face "inevitable death."

Russian or Syrian government jets were thought to be behind strikes across the province, including two that struck rural markets and killed dozens of people, activists said.

"The fear was clear on everyone's face. There were limbs and bodies all over the ground," said Ahmad al-Sheikho of the Civil Defense first responders group, who said he arrived at the Maaret al-Nouman marketplace ten minutes after it was struck.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said six members of the same family died in the attack.

The market at Kafranbel, a village 11 kilometers (seven miles) away, was also bombed a few hours earlier. The Observatory said 26 people, including members of the local religious police force, were killed.

Four children and two women were killed in Tamanaah when the village was attacked by government helicopters, the Observatory and Civil Defense reported.

Russia's military said last month it was resuming airstrikes on the northwestern Idlib province, where Kafranbel is located, and in the central Homs province in support of government forces. Kafranbel is at least 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the nearest front line, at Jabal Zawiyeh.

The battle for Aleppo

Meanwhile, Aleppo shook from the sound of explosions throughout Sunday as pro-government forces, including foreign fighters dispatched from Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, pounded the city's opposition neighborhoods in the east.

Smoke rises after airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, December 3, 2016.
Smoke rises after airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, December 3, 2016.Credit: Omar Sanadiki, Reuters

Rebel defenses have buckled after months of siege and waves of , and the opposition could soon be driven from Syria's largest city.

It would mark their biggest defeat since 2011, when a government crackdown against dissent sparked a civil war. Rebels swept into Aleppo in 2012. The government's fortunes changed after the Russian air force intervened in September 2015, allowing the government to begin to reconquer it.

Syrian army spokesman Brig. Gen. Samir Suleiman told The Associated Press in Aleppo that government forces would "continue fighting until they restore stability and security to all neighborhoods." He said the army has already retaken more than half the neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo, and that special forces would lead the battle in the narrow streets of the city's historic district.

On Sunday, the government captured large swathes of the Qaterji, Maysar, and Karm al-Turab neighborhoods, bringing their eastern flank to within less than a kilometer (half a mile) from the citadel that anchors the center of the city. The citadel has remained under government control throughout the conflict.

The advance also threatens to split the rebels' rump enclave in two and isolate the once densely populated al-Shaar neighborhood.

Judy al-Halaby, an activist still in the city, said residents began evacuating the area five days ago, with thousands fleeing to government control and thousands others deeper into rebel territory.

The UN estimates that more than 31,000 people have fled their homes since pro-government forces began advancing inside east Aleppo one week ago.

In the Hanano district, which was captured by government forces on November 26, hundreds of people were seen returning to their homes, as minivans passed through carrying troops and militiamen to the front lines.

For some of the residents, it was their first time seeing their homes in years.

Mohammed Qadra, 58, who left the district four years ago, returned from the government-held western part of the city on Sunday to discover that his home was so badly damaged that it is impossible for him to return.

"I have no money to renovate it now but I will do so step by step," said the man, who said he cried once he saw his home.