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Citizen journalist among 11 civilians killed by air raids in northwest Syria

Anas al-Dyab was killed by Russian air strikes in town of Khan Sheikhun, where he was filming bombardment of battered enclave
Dyab was a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, and a member of the White Helmets (AFP)

A young citizen journalist was among 11 civilians killed in air raids on northwest Syria's militant-run Idlib region on Sunday, rescue workers and a monitor said.

Anas al-Dyab, a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, was a member of the White Helmets who also contributed to AFP.

He was killed in Russian air strikes in the town of Khan Sheikhun, rescuers and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, where he was filming the bombardment of the battered enclave.

The northwest is the last major foothold of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed to recover the whole country but has made little or no gains in more than two months of military operations in the area, Reuters said.

The White Helmets, rescue workers in rebel areas named after their distinctive hard hats, said the group "mourns the fall of a hero Anas al-Dyab, a volunteer and media activist with the Syrian Civil Defence Centre in Idlib", in a Twitter post.

An AFP journalist saw friends and family gather to bid farewell to Dyab, his body wrapped in a white shroud.

His mother and father, fellow citizen journalists and rescue workers watched his burial in the city of Idlib, as ongoing bombardments prevented him from being laid to rest in his hometown of Khan Sheikhun.

The Damascus government and its Russian ally have stepped up their deadly bombardment of the area since late April, despite a September buffer zone deal to protect the region of some three million people from a massive military assault.

White Helmets and friends in funeral procession of citizen journalist Anas al-Dyab in Syria's Idlib on Sunday (AFP)
White Helmets and friends in funeral procession of citizen journalist Anas al-Dyab in Syria's Idlib on Sunday (AFP)

The Observatory said the deaths increased the number of civilians killed by Syrian government or Russian bombardments in the northwest to 682 since late April. It said 53 civilians had been killed by rebel attacks on state-held areas in the same period, according to Reuters.

About 1,500 combatants on both sides have been killed in the same period, it said.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes and the bombing has damaged or knocked out of service two dozen health facilities.

The White Helmets said five of its members had been killed since the start of the escalation on Idlib.

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Khan Sheikhun, a town in the south of Idlib, has been particularly hard hit, forcing thousands to flee their homes there, according to the United Nations.

Still, Dyab "chose to remain with his fellow volunteers in Khan Sheikhun till today," the White Helmets said.

Raed al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, said Dyab was killed while "trying to show the world what's going on in Syria".

"It's a great loss," he said.

Dyab, who was single, leaves behind his parents and three brothers, one of whom is held by the Damascus government, Saleh said.

The Observatory said Dyab was hiding in the cellar of a three-storey building with two members of the Jaish al-Ezza rebel group when the strike came.

Also on Sunday, government air strikes killed 10 more civilians, including three children, in other parts of the bastion, according to the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.

The White Helmets, who are backed by the West, were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

Still, Moscow and Damascus accuse the group of backing rebels and militants.

Russia and rebel-backer Turkey in September signed a deal to set up a buffer zone around Idlib, but it was never fully implemented.

Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in January took full administrative control of the Idlib region, although other militants and rebels are also present.

Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.