Russian airstrikes on a town in northern Syria have killed at least 40 people, according to local activists.
Middle East Eye reports:
The attack on the market in the Idlib city of Maarrat al-Nu’man, famed as the home of the blind 11th century poet Al-Ma’arri, took place on Saturday morning.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Russian air strikes also hit a prison complex near the market run by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front.
The building reportedly housed the group’s religious court and a jail.
SOHR said the death toll could rise as dozens of people were wounded or trapped under the rubble.
Idlib province has been an opposition stronghold since the spring of 2015, when it fell to the Jaish al-Fatah coalition, a group comprised of Ahrar al-Sham, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and others.
Russia began air strikes in October, ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS) group, but has been accused of primarily striking non-IS groups in the country in defence of the government of Bashar al-Assad.
— Levent Kemal (@ValkryV) January 9, 2016
Idlib has also seen long-running sieges against the towns of Zahra and Nubl by rebel forces.
The two towns, which are majority Shia, have been a sticking point in ceasefire negotiations between rebels, the Syrian government and Lebanese Hezbollah militants, particularly with regards to the blockaded towns of Zabadani and Madaya.
On Thursday, the Syrian government announced that it would allow aid into Madaya, as well as a number of other besieged towns.
— Barbara (@e32113) January 9, 2016
“The UN welcomes today’s approval from the government of Syria to access Madaya, Fuaa and Kafraya and is preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days,” a UN statement said in response.
It said there were “credible reports of people dying from starvation” in Madaya, including a 53-year-old man who allegedly died on Tuesday.
The war in Syria has so far claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and left millions displaced abroad and internally.
An influx of refugees from Syria into Europe has also provoked massive domestic debates in European countries about the correct humanitarian response to the crisis.
SOHR reports that Russian air strikes killed 39 people at a Jabhat Al Nusra prison, according to The National:
The strikes hit an Al Nusra building, which lies near a popular market in Maarat Al Numan in Idlib province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The building housed the Al Qaeda affiliate’s religious court and a jail.
Most of those killed were rebels imprisoned by Al Nusra, while other victims included prison guards and Al Nusra fighters.
Among the dead were five civilians, including a child.
Russian warplanes have been conducting air strikes against ISIL and “other terrorist groups” in Syria since September 30.
Al Nusra and ISIL are fierce rivals – despite both being extremist organisations – and regularly clash in Syria.
The Al Qaeda affiliate also has tense relationships with non-extremist rebel groups that oppose its extreme interpretation of sharia.
In Idlib, Al Nusra has formed an alliance with rebel groups, including hardline faction Ahrar Al Sham.
The Army of Conquest coalition has expelled regime forces from Idlib province.
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