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Deadly bomb injures dozens inside Turkish-controlled area in northern Syria

At least one killed in car bomb attack in Azaz where a sit-in to demand new elections to the local council was being held
Northern Syria has become a haven for large numbers of displaced people seeking refuge from elsewhere in the country (Reuters)

A blast has skilled at least one person and injured dozens more in a region of northern Syria controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups, a witness and a war monitor have told the Reuters news agency.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said the explosion in the city of Azaz was caused by a car bomb, while a witness said the blast hit a sit-in demanding new elections to the local council.

One person died and others were injured, according to the observatory. The witness said two were killed and 25 wounded.

Turkey has staged two incursions into northern Syria since 2016 in support of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, leading to its control over a zone along the border.

It took that territory after offensives against the two mutually hostile groups that previously controlled it, namely the Islamic State group and the Kurdish YPG militia.

Members of the Free Syrian army inspect damage from the car bomb in northern Syria (Reuters)
Ankara has brought together some of the rebel groups it backs there into a unified armed force, which it trains and pays. It also pays for some services inside the area it controls.

Northern Syria has become a haven for large numbers of displaced people who have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere in the country, or who do not want to live under Assad.

Turkish fears over Idlib offensive

Damascus has mobilised forces for an expected offensive on the adjacent rebel-held area in and around Idlib province, which humanitarian agencies have warned could spark a new flood of displacement toward the border region.

Turkey, which shares a border with Idlib, has expressed opposition to any large-scale offensive that could spark a new exodus of refugees.

Idlib is home to more than three million Syrians and thousands have been displaced to the province from former rebel-held strongholds lost to government forces.

Pictures of Russian ships gathering in the Mediterranean have sparked further concerns of an imminent assault on the last remaining rebel area.

An attack on Idlib by Damascus and Moscow could be the last major battle of the civil war that has torn Syria apart since 2011.

More than 350,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions have been forced to flee their homes.