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Syrian conflict

Children among 39 civilians killed in explosion in Syrian arms depot

Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but Islamic State also has sleeper cells in the area

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 9:45pm

An explosion at a weapons depot in a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 39 civilians including a dozen children on Sunday, a monitor said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said a previous toll of 12 civilians killed increased after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble.

“The explosion occurred in a weapons depot in a residential building in Sarmada,” said the head of the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. But the cause of the blast was “not yet clear”, Abdel Rahman added.

He said most of those killed were family members of fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by jihadists from Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of Homs.

Behind mounds of rubble, the facade of a building was scorched black, due to a fire after the blast.

A civil defence source said women and children were among the dead. But rescuers had pulled out “five people who were still alive”, the source said.

Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but Islamic State also has sleeper cells in the area. The regime holds a small sliver of southeastern Idlib.

In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations – mainly targeting rebel officials and fighters – have rocked the province.

While some attacks have been claimed by IS, most are the result of infighting since last year between other groups.

In recent days, regime forces have ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control.

President Bashar al-Assad has warned that government forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory elsewhere.

Around 2.5 million people live in the province, half of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.