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Syrian and Russian jets pound Idlib province, violating fragile ceasefire

At least 18 people, including two children, killed in Idlib city as Syrian government and its allies bomb rebel-held enclave
Syrian boy is evacuated after air strikes target town of Ariha in Idlib province (AFP)

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, bombed Idlib city and several nearby towns on Wednesday, violating a fragile ceasefire in the country's last rebel bastion.

The White Helmets, a group of volunteers who pull people from the rubble of buildings flattened in bombing raids, said that air strikes and artillery fire struck Idlib city and the towns of Kafrouma and Bazabour, in violation of a ceasefire deal secured on Sunday by Turkey and Russia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that bombs hit populated areas including a vegetable market and several repair shops in Idlib city, killing at least 18 people, two of which were children.

Videos taken at the scenes of the bomb sites showed massive damage as emergency response teams rushed to help those trapped in the rubble. 

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recapture Idlib, the last rebel-held territory in the country. But a truce negotiated between Russia and Turkey on Sunday was supposed to halt hostilities. 

Mustafa, who runs a repair shop in the area, told AFP that he was lucky to escape with his life. He said he had just left his shop to pick up some spare parts.

He returned to find his shop destroyed and four of his employees trapped under rubble. It was not immediately clear if they had survived. 

"This is not the neighbourhood I left two minutes ago!" Mustafa told the AFP news agency. 

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The day before the ceasefire, Middle East Eye reported that at least 17 people were killed and more than 40 wounded after air strikes hit four cities in Idlib. 

In the weeks before Sunday's ceasefire, Idlib had come under mounting bombardments, displacing tens of thousands of people in the northwestern province that is home to some three million people.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled the attacks, moving towards the Turkish border as Russian jets and Syrian artillery pounded towns and villages.

In September, Turkey, Russia and Iran had agreed to "de-escalate" the situation in Idlib after months of brutal strikes. 

That agreement, much like an August ceasefire deal, quickly unravelled with Syrian and Russian forces intensifying their bombing campaigns on Idlib.

Russia intervened in Syria's long-running war four years ago in support of Assad, while neighbouring Turkey and some Gulf states supported rebel groups that rose up against him. 

The conflict, which broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, has devastated much of the country. About half a million people have been killed and millions have been forced to live as refugees.

A drone picture taken in Idlib on 15 January shows members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, carrying a boy out of rubble (AFP)
A drone picture taken in Idlib on 15 January shows members of Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, carrying boy out of rubble (AFP)
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