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Syrian army strikes on Idlib kill at least 17 on day before ceasefire to take effect

Turkey's defence ministry says attacks by air and land will halt at one minute past midnight on 12 January under ceasefire
A Syrian man carries the body of a child killed by government air strikes on town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib on 11 January 2020 (AFP)

At least 17 people were killed and more than 40 wounded on Saturday as Syrian army air strikes hit four cities in the country's northwestern region of Idlib, witnesses and a local civil defence centre said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recapture Idlib, the last rebel-held area of territory in the country. The strikes came the day before a ceasefire was due to come into force, Reuters said.

The witnesses said seven people were killed in the city of Idlib on Saturday, four in al-Nayrab and six in Binnish.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said that 18 civilians were killed, including six children.

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In Idlib city, the bombardment struck near a cultural centre, according to the Observatory and an AFP correspondent in the area.

Scores of students, many of them crying, ran from the site of the blast in panic, the AFP correspondent said.

The bombardment surprised residents in a city that had been relatively free from the near-daily attacks that have hit the province's south, the correspondent added.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib province have fled attacks in recent weeks, moving towards the Turkish border as Russian jets and Syrian artillery pound towns and villages in a renewed government assault launched last month against Turkish-backed rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Turkey's defence ministry said on Friday that attacks by air and land would halt at one minute past midnight on 12 January under the ceasefire, which Ankara has been seeking for several weeks.

Syrian state media carried no reports of air strikes by the Syrian army or its ally Russia in those areas on Saturday but said that the Syrian army had "eliminated a number of terrorists during intense gunfire carried out against their positions" in the southeastern Idlib countryside.