Deadly strike hits Syria market

A Syrian fighter from the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) fires a heavy artillery gun from the rebel-held Idlib province against against regime positions in the northern part of Hama province, Wednesday. — AFP

MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria — Syrian government airstrikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday.

Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.

At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat Al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the observatory said.

The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported.

The bodies of market-goers were torn apart.

"Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP.

Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by airstrikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the observatory said.

Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added.

Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr Al-Shughur, the monitor said.

The Britain-based observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.

'Worst fears'

The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighboring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday.

Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 — 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the observatory said.

It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8.

State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents. — AFP