Syrian government forces hit last rebel enclave, killing 9

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian White Helmet civil defense worker digging in the rubble of destroyed house that hit by Syrian government rockets, in Ibleen village, southern Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, July 15, 2021. At least eight civilians were killed, including three children, when Syrian government rockets hit two villages in the last rebel stronghold in Idlib province, rescue workers and a war monitor said Thursday. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government rockets hit two villages in the last rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria on Thursday, killing at least nine civilians, including three children, rescue workers and a war monitor said.

The U.N. Children’s agency confirmed three children were killed, calling it a “terrifying sign” that violence is returning to the area that has been under a cease-fire for over a year.

The Syrian Civil Defense team that operates in opposition areas, known as White Helmets, said guided missiles struck in Ibleen, a village in southern Idlib, killing a woman, her daughter and a child and injuring four others. All were from the same family, the White Helmets said.

In eastern Idlib, at least six were killed, including a child, when rockets hit an area where a quarry is located near Foa, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Those killed were stone cutters, the Observatory said. The White Helmets also reported the strike, but said two children were among those killed.

The discrepancy in the number of casualties could not be immediately reconciled.

Violence has been rising in recent weeks in the last-rebel enclave between government and allied forces and insurgents on the edge of the territory, home to nearly 4 million people, despite a truce brokered in March 2020.

The truce was negotiated between Turkey, which supports Syria’s opposition, and Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer. At the time, it halted a crushing Russian-backed government air and ground campaign aimed at retaking the region.

UNICEF said 512 children were verified killed in Syria last year, the majority in the northwest where there are 1.7 million vulnerable children, many of whom have fled violence several times. In the past week alone, UNICEF said, at least 10 children were killed.

“This is a terrifying sign that violence is coming back to Syria. Communities face a serious risk of losing the little respite they had during the lull in violence,” the agency said.

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