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Russian air strikes kill dozens of Turkey-backed rebels in Syria's Idlib

Sources told MEE that Idlib hospitals were calling for blood donations, while other fighters were transported to Turkey
Turkish officials fear Russia is laying the groundwork to overrun Idlib and take control of the last rebel-held area in Syria (AFP)

Russian air strikes killed dozens of fighters from a Turkey-backed rebel group in northwest Syria on Monday, as Turkish officials fear the government, backed by Russia, is preparing to overrun Idlib. 

A high-ranking commander in Failaq al-Sham told Middle East Eye that more than 100 were killed and 150 people wounded after Russia targeted the faction's training camp in Jabal Duwayli area in Idlib province.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Russian attack had killed 78 rebels.

One medical source told MEE that while some of the wounded fighters were taken to Turkey, hospitals in Syria are still under "great pressure" and calling for blood donations. 

The National Liberation Front (NLF), a coalition of Turkey-backed rebels, confirmed to AFP that Russian strikes had targeted one of its facilities but did not give an exact death toll.  

Saif Raad, the director of the media office for Failaq al-Sham and the NLF, refused to verify the number of fighters killed because the number was unclear but said the camp targeted was in the "border area with Turkey" and affiliated to Free Syrian Army factions.

"Reconnaissance planes have not left the sky and are monitoring the whole region," he said.

Last week, Turkish officials told Middle East Eye that it feared Russia could trigger a conflict in Idlib at any moment as they do not want a new arrangement in Idlib that could stabilise the situation for the long term. 

Sources familiar with the situation in northwest Syria also told MEE that the Turkish military planned to leave four observation posts in Idlib. 

Turkey set up 12 ceasefire observation stations in and around Idlib following a 2017 agreement that warded off a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive that threatened to collapse rebel rule in the province and force millions of refugees to the Turkish border.

Local Syrian opposition media has speculated that the Turkish military is readying itself for upcoming clashes by relocating its military stations.

In March, a truce brokered by Russia and Turkey prevented pro-Assad forces from overrunning Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held area in northwest Syria, which holds at least a million Syrian refugees who have been displaced from across the country.

The truce has been largely held with the exception of some bombardment and intermittent air strikes in the area, including a US drone strike that killed 17 militants on Thursday, according to the Observatory.