Syrian Government Forces' Shelling Kills 17, Says War Monitor

About half of those killed were under 18 years old, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

FILE PHOTO: Syria's president Bashar al-Assad speaks to Parliament members in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 7, 2016.
\ Sana Sana/ REUTERS

Shelling by Syrian government forces of rebel-held areas in the northwest of the country has killed 17 civilians in the past 24 hours, a war monitoring group said on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said the shelling was in different locations and that more than half the dead were under the age of 18.

Violence has escalated in northwestern Syria this year along the frontline between pro-government forces and the largest remaining territory held by Syrian rebel groups.

The area is subject to a ceasefire agreement struck in September between Russia and Turkey to avert a major government offensive to retake the northwest. Moscow is the government's strongest ally and Turkey backs some rebel groups.

The northwest, including Idlib province and parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, is home to about 3 million people, half of whom have already been internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Early this year, the jihadist groups in the northwest seized most of the enclave from other rebel factions. Turkish-backed insurgents hold an adjacent enclave in northern Aleppo province where there is no active fighting with the government.