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Air strikes on northwest Syria kill dozens, activists say

Majority of victims civilians struck by raid on a market in the Idlib province town of Maaret al-Numan
This strike comes days after air raids by Russian and Syrian warplanes killed 18 people, including a young citizen journalist (AFP)

Pro-Syrian government air strikes in northwestern Idlib province killed at least 42 people on Monday, according to activists, the majority of victims civilians.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 36 civilians were killed by raids on a "wholesale vegetable market" in the town of Maaret al-Numan and the surrounding area.

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More than 100 others were wounded, the Observatory said, with many people left in critical condition or trapped beneath the rubble.

Meanwhile, a rocket attack on the town of Saraqib, to the north of Maaret al-Numan, killed six, according to the Observatory. 

Rebel shelling on the government-controlled Aleppo neighbourhoods of al-Jamelaiah and Hamadaniyeh also killed seven people on Monday, according to the Observatory

Eyewitnesses blamed the vegetable market attack in Maaret al-Numan on Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Muadh al-Abbas, an activist living in Maarat al-Numan, told Middle East Eye the "sound of the aircraft and level of destruction" from the attack point to Russia's involvement.

However, in a statement quoted by TASS state news agency, Russia's defence ministry denied it was responsible for the strike.

"The statements of anonymous representatives of the White Helmets organisation financed by Britain and the US about an alleged strike by Russian planes on a market in Maarat al-Numan are fake," it was quoted as saying. 

Double-tap attack

Abbas said pro-government forces carried out a "double-tap" attack, hitting the same spot a second time when rescue workers rushed to the scene. 

"When the Civil Defence teams went to the scene of the first attacks, the aircraft carried out a double attack, killing a White Helmets volunteer," he said.

"The attacks did not stop, with other attacks targeting the corniche road and the city's new cultural centre."

'Buildings are completely destroyed, shops no longer there without any trace. It's been a terrifying day'

- Ammar al-Jabeer, activist

The Syrian Civil Defence search and rescue group, commonly known as the White Helmets, confirmed on Twitter that one of its volunteers had been killed in the raid, adding that more than 50 people had been wounded. 

Videos posted online showed Syrian Civil Defence rescue workers desperately scouring buildings destroyed in search of people trapped under rubble.

"Buildings are completely destroyed, shops no longer there without any trace. It's been a terrifying day for the residents of the city," Ammar al-Jabeer, an activist displaced from Aleppo, told MEE. 

"Many of the wounded have been taken to hospitals around the area and most of their injuries are serious, so the death toll may rise.” 

Fareed al-Omri, a local journalist and activist who lives in Maarat al-Numan, said the attack "shook him to his core", and has given him no choice but to flee once again. 

"I would often go to the market with my father to go buy food, drink and vegetables for my family," Omri told MEE.  

"We had to move once before because Assad destroyed our previous home and came to Maarat al-Numan, but tomorrow I will move to the Turkish border."

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It remains unclear why pro-government forces targeted this specific market, which is used mainly by civilians. 

This latest strike comes days after air raids by Russian and Syrian warplanes killed 18 people, including a young citizen journalist. 

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

He was killed in Russian air strikes in his hometown of Khan Sheikhun on Sunday, rescuers and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Russian warplanes have been supporting Moscow's ally the Syrian government in its latest bombing campaign in the last remaining bastion of the opposition.

Hundreds have been killed since Damascus and Russia stepped up their attacks in late April.

AFP and Reuters news agencies contributed to this report.