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Deadly strikes hit Idlib as Syrian army advances

By AFP

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Members of the Syrian Civil Defence carry the body of a woman recovered from the rubble of a building at the site of a reported airstrike on the town of Ariha in the northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province early on January 30th. [Aaref Watad/AFP]

Airstrikes killed 10 civilians near a bakery and a medical clinic in Syria's opposition-held Idlib region on Thursday (January 30th), as government forces kept up a ground offensive.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes hit the Idlib province town of Ariha, but the Russian defence ministry said its "aviation did not carry out any combat tasks in this area of Syria".

The government and its Russian allies have upped their deadly bombardment of Syria's last major opposition bastion, slowly chipping away at it from the south.

Damascus loyalists retook the strategic north-western town of Maaret al-Numan on Wednesday.

Early on Thursday, Russian airstrikes hit near a bakery and the al-Shami clinic in Ariha which is now out of service, the Observatory said.

The monitor says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.

Increase in Russian raids

The latest deaths bring to 21 the number of civilians killed by Russian airstrikes in Idlib since Wednesday, the Observatory said.

Earlier this month, Russia denied launching any combat operations in the region since a ceasefire it agreed with opposition supporter Turkey went into effect on January 12th.

But the truce has since become a dead letter and the number of reported Russian raids has risen sharply in an area dominated by extremists of the Tahrir al-Sham alliance.

Thousands of Russian troops are deployed across Syria in support of the army, while a contingent of Russian private security personnel also operates on the ground.

Government forces pushed north from Maaret al-Numan on Thursday towards the town of Saraqib, whose residents have mostly fled in the face of heavy bombardment.

The front line is now within five kilometres of the town, the Observatory said.

Both Maaret al-Numan and Saraqib lie on the key M5 highway connecting the capital Damascus to second city Aleppo.

Some 50 kilometres of the M5 remain outside regime control, the Observatory said.

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