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Children among 39 civilians dead in Syria arms depot

AFP  |  Beirut 

An explosion at a weapons depot in a rebel-held town in killed at least 39 civilians including a dozen children on Sunday, a monitor said.

An at the site in Sarmada in province near the Turkish border said the explosion of unknown origin caused two buildings to collapse.

Rescue workers used bulldozers to remove the rubble and extract trapped people from the flattened buildings, the said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, of the for Human Rights monitoring group, said a previous death toll of 12 increased after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble.

"The explosion occurred in a weapons depot in a residential building in Sarmada," said the of the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside

But the cause of the blast was "not yet clear", added.

He said most of those killed were family members of fighters from (HTS), an alliance led by jihadists from Syria's former affiliate, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of

A carried the motionless body of a small child from the wreckage to an ambulance, the said.

White Helmet rescue workers attempted to lift part of a floor of one of the buildings with a tall crane. Nearby three young boys watched on in silence, perched on a rock.

Behind mounds of rubble, the facade of a building was scorched black, due to a fire after the blast.

A civil defence source told AFP that women and children were among the dead. But rescue workers had pulled out "five people who were still alive", the source said.

Most of is controlled by rebels and HTS, but the Islamic State jihadist group also has sleeper cells in the area. The regime holds a small slither of southeastern

In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations -- mainly targeting rebel officials and fighters -- have rocked the province.

While some attacks have been claimed by IS, most are the result of infighting since last year between other groups.

In recent days, regime forces have ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control.

On Friday, 12 civilians, three of them children, were killed in regime bombardment of the towns of and

has warned that government forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory in other parts of

On Thursday, government helicopters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib's eastern countryside urging people to surrender.

The appealed the same day for talks to avert "a civilian bloodbath" in the province.

Jan Egeland, of the UN's humanitarian taskforce for Syria, said: "The cannot be allowed to go to Idlib."

Around 2.5 million people live in the province, half of them displaced by fighting in other regions of the country.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's civil started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, August 12 2018. 21:40 IST