Air strikes on southern Syria kill 22 civilians: monitor

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Syrian rescue workers and residents help an injured woman following a reported air strike by government forces on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Haydariya in the northern city of Aleppo on April 10, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / THAER MOHAMMED

BEIRUT: A barrage of Russian air strikes on rebel-held areas of southern Syria killed 22 civilians on Thursday, a monitoring group said, most of them in a single battered town.
“At least 35 Russian air strikes hit the town of Al-Mseifra,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“One of them hit a basement where people were taking shelter, killing 17 civilians, including five children,” the Britain-based monitor said.
The Observatory says it determines who carried out particular strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, the locations and the flight patterns.
The hospital in Al-Mseifra had been put out of service by Russian strikes on Tuesday night, the Observatory said. Another five civilians were killed in other rebel-controlled areas of Daraa, the main province in southern Syria. “This is the highest toll since the escalation began on June 19,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Government forces have been ramping up their bombardment of rebel-held areas of the south since June 19, and allied Russian warplanes carried out their first raids on the region in a year on June 23. In July last year, Russia, the United States and Jordan had agreed on a de-escalation zone for rebel-controlled parts of the south.
After that, Russian warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the region.
The Syrian Civil Defense, a team of first responders, said that more than 150 airstrikes targeted 12 towns and villages in eastern and western Daraa since dawn, setting off a new wave of displacement.
Up until Tuesday, the United Nations had estimated that nearly 50,000 people are on the move in Daraa, fleeing the violence, most of them heading to villages near the Jordanian border.
Jordan says it will keep its borders closed and urged the UN to provide security for the Syrians within their country. Thousands of other displaced have headed to the frontier with the Golan Heights. Israel has not commented on the offensive or the displacement.
The Observatory said at least five children were among the 17 killed in the al-Musayfrah strike. Activist with the opposition-operated Horan Free Media, who goes by the name Abu Mahmoud Hournai, said the rescuers were still pulling bodies from the underground shelter by early afternoon.
He put the death toll at 20, saying women and children were among the casualties. “They are still pulling people from under the rubble,” Hourani said. “The situation on the ground is disastrous.”
The Observatory said at least 46 civilians, including 15 children, have been killed since the offensive began, including the victims of Thursday’s airstrike.
The international aid organization CARE said humanitarian workers in the south are struggling to deliver basic needs to the population. One aid worker in an organization supported by CARE was killed in shelling on Tuesday while on duty.
“Civilians are paying the price of another military offensive. What we have seen in Aleppo, northern rural Homs, and (Damascus’ suburb of eastern) Ghouta, is happening now in the south, where cities and towns are bombed daily, people are being uprooted and lack basic human necessities, such as water and shelter,” said Wouter Schapp, CARE’s Syria country director.