Air strikes on areas in the last major rebel stronghold in north-west Syria on Saturday killed at least 18 people and wounded others, opposition activists said, as a three-month truce crumbles.
Air strikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks amid predictions Bashar al-Assad’s government is preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once a commercial centre.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people were killed in Idlib province, while the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence said 18 had lost their lives.
The largest number of casualties occurred in the village of Balyoun, where the Civil Defence said eight people were killed, while the Observatory said nine died. Both groups also said that four people, including a child and two women, were killed in airstrikes on the rebel-held village of Bara.
Both groups also said that five others were killed in the village of Ibdeita. The Civil Defence said another child was killed in a nearby village in Idlib while the Observatory had two more.
Conflicting casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria, where an eight-year conflict has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s pre-war population.
Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked militants. The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
A fragile ceasefire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.
In October, the Syrian government and its ally Russia struck a deal with Turkey to halt its cross-border attack in northern Syria, which was aided by Turkish-backed militia in the country’s north-east.
Turkey claimed its attack on mostly Kurdish-controlled territory in the country’s north was designed to create a so-called safe zone along the border where Turkey planned to resettle Syrians who fled Islamic State. Turkey considers the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) a terrorist group.