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3 Jul 2021 By AFP

Seven children were among nine civilians killed by Syrian regime artillery fire Saturday in the northwestern rebel stronghold of Idlib, a war monitor said, as a UN agency condemned the “tragic” deaths.

The shelling also wounded around 15 others in several locations of the Jabal al-Zawiya area in the south of the stronghold, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It killed five members of the same family — a man, his wife and three of their children — in the village of Iblin, two children in Balyun, and two girls in Balshun, it said.

In Iblin, an AFP photographer saw the bodies of the family arrive at a health dispensary, wrapped in woollen and cotton blankets.

Nurses and others prepared the bodies for burial, cleaning the bloodied corpse of a young boy before swaddling it in white fabric, he said.

The Idlib health directorate said the man killed in Iblin along with his family worked for its local branch.

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said the attacks were “just tragic” and “the worst” since a ceasefire brokered in March last year.

“An escalation of violence will only result in cutting short the lives of more children,” UNICEF said.

Two of the girls killed were the daughters of a member of the White Helmets rescue group, UNICEF said, adding they were aged seven and 14.

“Last year alone, 512 children were verified killed in Syria, the majority in the northwest home to 1.7 million vulnerable children,” UNICEF said.

Violations of the 2020 truce, brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, are relatively frequent, as government forces maintain pressure on the rebel enclave.

In past weeks, Russian warplanes have pounded the southern Idlib region in tandem with artillery shelling by regime forces, according to the monitor.

The war in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.

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