Chil­dren among 39 killed in Syria blast

Gulf Times - - ARAB WORLD -

An ex­plo­sion at a weapons de­pot that top­pled build­ings in a rebel-held town of north­west Syria killed at least 39 civil­ians in­clud­ing a dozen chil­dren yes­ter­day, a mon­i­tor said.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent at the site in Sar­mada in Idlib province near the Turk­ish bor­der said the ex­plo­sion of un­known ori­gin caused the col­lapse of two build­ings.

Res­cue work­ers used bull­doz­ers to re­move rub­ble and ex­tract trapped peo­ple from the flat­tened build­ings, the cor­re­spon­dent said.

A civil de­fence source said that res­cue work­ers had pulled out “five peo­ple who were still alive”.

But the death toll rose as more bod­ies were re­trieved from the rub­ble, ac­cord­ing to Rami Ab­del Rah­man, head of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor­ing group.

Three Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) mem­bers were also killed, apart from the 39 civil­ians, he said.

“The ex­plo­sion oc­curred in a weapons de­pot in a res­i­den­tial build­ing in Sar­mada,” said the head of the Bri­tain­based mon­i­tor, which re­lies on a net­work of sources in­side Syria.

But the cause of the blast was “not yet clear”, Ab­del Rah­man added.

He said most of those killed were fam­ily mem­bers of fight­ers from HTS, an alliance led by mil­i­tants from Syria’s for­mer Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate, who had been dis­placed to the area from the cen­tral province of Homs.

A res­cue worker car­ried the mo­tion­less body of a small child from the wreck­age to an am­bu­lance, the AFP cor­re­spon­dent said.

White Hel­met res­cue work­ers at­tempted to lift part of a floor of one of the build­ings with a tall crane, as three young boys watched on in si­lence, perched on a rock.

Be­hind mounds of rub­ble, the fa­cade of a build­ing was scorched black, due to a fire af­ter the blast.

Most of Idlib is con­trolled by rebels and HTS, but the Is­lamic State group also has sleeper cells in the area.

The regime holds a small slither of south­east­ern Idlib.

In re­cent months, a se­ries of ex­plo­sions and as­sas­si­na­tions – mainly tar­get­ing rebel of­fi­cials and fight­ers – have rocked the province.

While some at­tacks have been claimed by IS, most are the re­sult of in­fight­ing since last year be­tween other groups.

Regime forces have since last week ramped up their deadly bom­bard­ment of south­ern Idlib and sent re­in­force­ments to nearby ar­eas they con­trol.

On Fri­day, 12 civil­ians, three of them chil­dren, were killed in regime bom­bard­ment of the towns of Khan Sheikhun and Al-Tah.

Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad has warned that gov­ern­ment forces in­tend to re­take Idlib, af­ter his Rus­sia-backed regime re­gained con­trol of swathes of rebel-held ter­ri­tory in other parts of Syria.

On Thursday, gov­ern­ment he­li­copters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s east­ern coun­try­side urg­ing peo­ple to sur­ren­der. The United Na­tions ap­pealed the same day for talks to avert “a civil­ian blood­bath” in the province.

Jan Ege­land, head of the UN’s hu­man­i­tar­ian task­force for Syria, said: “The war can­not be al­lowed to go to Idlib.”

Around 2.5mn peo­ple live in the province, half of them dis­placed by fight­ing in other re­gions of the coun­try.

More than 350,000 peo­ple have been killed and mil­lions dis­placed since Syria’s civil war started in 2011 with the bru­tal re­pres­sion of antigov­ern­ment protests.

Build­ings de­stroyed in an ex­plo­sion at an arms de­pot are seen in Sar­mada yes­ter­day.

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