Syrian regime and Russian forces have killed 16 civilians and 13 opposition fighters in attacks on Idlib province in the past week alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday (June 28).
The uptick in violence in Syria comes as Russia continues to demonstrate its disregard for civilian lives in Ukraine, where a Russian missile on Tuesday hit a restaurant in Kramatorsk, killing eight people.
Three children -- including a baby born in 2022 -- were among the dead, and more than 40 people were wounded in the Ukraine incident, which prompted international outcry.
In Syria, Russian air strikes on Sunday killed at least 13 people in Idlib province.
At least nine civilians, including two children, were among the dead -- six of them killed at a fruit and vegetable market in Jisr al-Shughur.
"These Russian strikes are the deadliest in Syria this year and amount to a massacre," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
While the Syrian regime and Russian attacks in Syria ostensibly target extremists, chiefly from the Tahrir al-Sham alliance, a large number of civilians, including children, are routinely killed in the bombardments.
Attack on vegetable market
"Russians shells rained on us," said Saad Fato, 35, a labourer who survived the Sunday strike on the market.
Fato said he was unloading tomatoes and cucumbers at the time of the attack.
"It was indescribable, seeing the dead, the wounded," he said, his hands still covered with their blood.
Six civilians died in Jisr al-Shughur and three opposition fighters were killed nearby by Russian air strikes, Abdel Rahman said.
Another three civilians, including two children, and one opposition fighter were killed in a strike on the outskirts of Idlib city, he said.
That fighter was a member of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur-dominated extremist group, he said, adding that the parents of the dead children also belonged to that group.
At least 30 civilians were wounded in Sunday's strikes, he said.
Ahmed Yazigi of the civil defence in Jisr al-Shughur called the assault "a direct attack on the popular market which provides a basic source of income for farmers".
On Saturday, a Russian air strike killed two civilians in the Idlib region.
Artillery strikes by the Syrian regime in the town of Kafr Nuran in western Aleppo province on June 21 killed three civilians, including a child, and injured two others, the Observatory said.
The shelling also damaged a house.
Residents in the town said the artillery fire hit a neighbourhood where some people had gathered to buy watermelons.
Syrian leaders blacklisted
The latest violence comes as Russia attempts to project power in the aftermath of an aborted mutiny by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary outfit headed by now-exiled leader Yevgeny Prigozhin that has been active in Syria.
It also comes as the regime of Bashar al-Assad pursues normalisation with the region following more than a decade in exile for its crimes against the Syrian people.
While the Arab League reinstated Syria as a member on May 19, many remain sceptical about al-Assad's re-entry to the bloc without full accountability.
The United Kingdom on June 19 announced new sanctions against Syria's defence minister and its head of the armed forces, as part of new curbs targeting conflict-related sexual violence.
Ali Mahmoud Abbas has a "commanding role of the Syrian military and armed forces, who have systematically used rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence against civilians", the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said.
Abdel Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, who is chief of the general staff of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces, "has been involved in the repression of the Syrian population through commanding military forces where there has been systematic use of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence", it said.
"Threats of sexual violence as a weapon in conflict must stop and survivors must be supported to come forward," said UK junior foreign minister Tariq Ahmad.
"These sanctions send a clear signal to perpetrators that the UK will hold you accountable for your horrendous crimes."