Russian warplanes have intensified their bombing campaign in Syria’s mainly rebel-held Idlib province over the weekend, after opposition fighters shot down a Russian jet on Saturday.
Civil defence sources said air raids hit the towns of Maasran and Kafr Nubl, as well as the cities of Maarat, Idlib and Saraqeb, and that several civilian deaths and dozens of injuries were reported.
Members of a UK aid convoy in Idlib confirmed that a hospital was hit in Maarat al Numan where at least five people were killed.
Video footage recorded by aid workers and local residents showed babies on stretchers being rushed by civil defence workers out of the damaged hospital.
Idlib is mainly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which claimed to have shot down the Russian SU-25 fighter jet using a shoulder-fired weapon.
In Idlib city, the provincial capital, one witness said a five-storey building was levelled and that at least 15 people were believed to have died.
Last December, the Syrian army alongside Iranian-backed militias and heavy Russian airpower launched a major offensive to take territory in Idlib province, the remaining and densely populated province still under opposition control.
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Russia’s defence ministry and Syrian rebels said the Russian SU-25 jet was downed on Saturday in an area that has seen fierce fighting on the ground and heavy airstrikes targeting rebel groups who are opposing President Bashar al-Assad.
Many Sunni Syrians who oppose the Assad regime view Russia as an invading force and largely blame it for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians since Moscow joined the war on the Syrian government’s side nearly three years ago.
Russia’s Defence Ministry has consistently denied targeting civilian areas and says it specifically targets “hard-line jihadist militants”.
Airstrikes last Saturday after the downing of the jet killed at least 10 people, including children, in the Khan al Subl area near where the plane crashed.
A member of a local civil defence unit confirmed to the Middle East Eye that bodies of a family of seven were pulled from the rubble following another attack in the town of Maasran.
Ahmad Hilal said: “We are pulling bodies from under collapsed walls. The Russians are taking their revenge on civilians, many of whom were already displaced and had fled their homes from earlier bombardment.”
The United Nations and UK aid workers currently in Idlib have warned of a humanitarian crisis if the fighting continues to near the province’s most heavily populated areas, where nearly three million people reside.