Civilian body count soars as Russia intensifies bombing campaign in Syria
MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria -- Russian air strikes on a market in northwestern Syria killed 43 people on Monday (July 22), the latest gruesome incident in Russia's intensifying bombing campaign in the war-torn country.
Idlib Province, Syria, home to some three million inhabitants, is supposed to be protected by a months-old international truce, but it has come under increased bombardment by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia since late April.
The spike in violence has killed more than 650 civilians and damaged or knocked out of service two dozen health facilities.
Mass flight from violence
More than 330,000 refugees have fled violence in the area over the past three months, according to the United Nations.
On Monday morning, 35 civilians and two people still to be identified were killed in raids that hit a vegetable market and surrounding areas in the town of Maaret al-Numan, Idlib Province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
At least 45 others were wounded, according to the monitor, which said the death toll could rise as many of those injured were in critical condition and survivors were still trapped under rubble.
The Britain-based Observatory says it relies on a network of sources inside Syria and determines whose planes carried out air strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions involved.
Men drenched in blood were carried away from the site by residents and rescue workers, who used mattresses as makeshift stretchers, an AFP photographer said.
He saw the corpse of one man sprawled on the ground near a motorcycle, rubble surrounding his lifeless body.
With his eyes closed and his face covered in dust, another man clutched the arms of two rescuers helping him out of the area, the photographer added.
The latest casualties came after the Syrian regime and Russian warplanes last week bombarded the village of Maar Shureen, killing 10 civilians.
Three children were among the dead in that southern Idlib village, which recorded the day's highest toll on July 16.
The strike hit near a mosque in the centre of the village, destroying vegetable stalls and shops, AFP reported.
Other villages and towns in rural Idlib and Hama came under heavy bombardment, the Observatory said.
In addition to the air strikes, many areas came under shelling from Syrian regime positions facing them, said Idlib activist Musab Assaf.
Many of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.
Perpetrating a massacre
The plight of the wounded was compounded by the shortage of medical treatment facilities, Assaf said, as the pilots conducting the air strikes intentionally knocked many area hospitals out of service.
Such violence has led many to accuse Russia of perpetrating a massacre in Syria under the pretext of fighting terrorists.
Russia on July 18 opposed a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution calling for an end to attacks on health facilities in Idlib.
The outcome led to a rare statement following the meeting by the UN's humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock.
"The carnage must stop," he said.
The draft text expressed "grave concern regarding the recent attacks on hospitals and other health facilities", including a July 10 attack on Maarat National Hospital.
The hospital is one of the largest in the area, and its co-ordinates had been shared through the UN "deconfliction mechanism" that aims to spare civilian targets.
Since July 1, "at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed", said Lowcock after the meeting.
"Entire villages have been destroyed and emptied" by air strikes, he said.