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Syria: Women and children from same family killed in Assad government shelling of Idlib

Two children aged four and two were among those killed in the attack on Idlib's Maarat al-Naasan
Syrians mourn over the bodies of victims killed in the village of Maaret al-Naasan, in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, 12 February (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

Syrian government shelling killed at least six civilians including women and children on Saturday in Idlib province, the country's last main rebel bastion, a war monitor and witnesses have said.

At the scene of the attack, a Middle East Eye correspondent reported seeing several bodies being taken away from the targeted home in Maarat al-Naasan, an area close to Damascus-controlled territory.

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According to the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, three artillery shells were fired toward the town from the nearby forest of Kafr Halab.

"The fires was shot directly to target a residential house" said Laith Al-Adbullah, a manager of one of the civil defence centres. "The goal of the attack was to actually kill civilians, as the Syrian regime regularly bombards civilian city centres and villages".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group with a network of sources on the ground in the war-torn country, confirmed that a family home was directly hit. "The shell fell on a civilian home," the group said in a statement on Saturday. 

The monitor said two women and two children were among those killed, who were all from the same family. Many others were wounded.

The slain family members were lined up next to each other and laid to rest in the town's community cemetery later that day. 

Residents of Idlib's Maaret Elnaasan lay to rest family members slain in Saturday's attack (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)
Residents of Idlib's Maarat al-Naasan lay to rest family members slain in Saturday's attack (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

Mustafa Ukab, a relative of the victims in Saturday's bombing, said that the slain family had gathered at the house - his uncle's - to enjoy the sunny weather that had ended a weeks-long cold front.

Ukab left for work that morning but hurried back when he heard that the nearby explosion he'd heard had hit his uncle's neighbourhood. 

"I could barely walk, and my feet couldn't support me to get there fast enough,” Ukab told MEE. "I rushed to the house and I found my uncle Fawaz, his wife and his four-year-old daughter Jana, all killed in the attack."

Three other members of Ukab family that were killed have been identified as Emad, Aisha and a two-year-old named Rahaf.

A relative of the slain family members clutches at one of the remains prepared for burial in Maarat al-Naasan on 12 February (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)
A relative of the slain family members clutches at one of the remains prepared for burial in Maarat al-Naasan on 12 February (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

The shelling had begun at around 1:30 local time, with more shells fired intermittently afterward. 

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have regularly targeted hospitals and civilian areas since the start of the war in 2011, according to the Observatory.

The Idlib region bordering Turkey is home to about three million people and it is one of the last pockets to oppose Damascus.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, controls with its allies about half of the region and parts of neighbouring provinces. 

After a months-long military campaign to flush out the enclave sparked fears of the war's worst bloodshed yet, a ceasefire deal was reached in March 2020.

The agreement brokered by Damascus and the rebels' main backers - Russia and Turkey respectively - has largely held since, despite sporadic flare-ups.

But Damascus has intensified attacks on southern Idlib since June.

The war in Syria has killed around half a million people and displaced millions more, the Observatory says.

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