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Air raids hit Syria rebel areas

Scores of people hurt as prison, clinic struck, activists say by BASSEM MROUE and JAMEY KEATEN The Associated Press | March 26, 2017 at 3:36 a.m.

BEIRUT -- Airstrikes hit a women's prison and a clinic Saturday in rebel-held parts of Syria, killing and wounding scores of people during clashes on multiple fronts between government forces and insurgent groups in some of the country's worst violence in weeks, opposition activists said.

The airstrikes, some of which activists said included Russian raids, concentrated on the rebel-held, northwestern province of Idlib, the central province of Hama and suburbs of the capital, Damascus, that have come under attack by insurgent groups over the past week.

One of the airstrikes hit a main street in the Damascus suburb of Hamouriyeh, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 50, activists said. The airstrikes caused wide destruction in the area.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said in a statement released in Geneva that he is deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Syria, saying it undermines a Dec. 30 cease-fire brokered by Turkey, Iran and Russia, which back opposing parties in the conflict.

The statement said de Mistura had communicated with the foreign ministers of the three countries, appealing to them to exert urgent efforts to uphold the cease-fire.

Speaking after meeting Saturday with the U.N. envoy in Geneva as part of a fresh round of Syrian peace talks, Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the main opposition delegation, lashed out at Syrian President Bashar Assad's "killing machine" and named and showed photos of some of the victims -- some of which were graphic.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes on Hamouriyeh killed 16 people, including eight women and children, and wounded more than 50.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists in Syria, said 18 were killed and dozens were wounded.

Both groups said some people are still missing and that the death toll could rise.

"They have been hitting Hamouriyeh for days but today they struck an area packed with civilians," Awis al-Shami of the Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said in a text message.

The airstrikes come as insurgent groups have been on the offensive in Damascus and the central province of Hama for the past several days. Government forces and their allies opened a counteroffensive capturing some of the areas they lost in Damascus and Hama.

Opposition activists also reported that airstrikes in Idlib province hit several towns and villages, as well as the provincial capital that carries the same name.

The Observatory said a Friday night attack struck an Idlib city prison run by militants, killing at least 16 people, including prisoners and prison workers. It added that women were among the dead.

The monitoring group, which has a network of activists around the country, said some people were killed by gunfire as prison guards chased detainees who tried to flee after the attack.

The Syrian National Coalition, one of the largest opposition groups, said the airstrikes on Idlib targeted, among other sites, a women's prison, and that dozens of people were killed or wounded.

The Observatory and the Civil Defense said an airstrike struck a clinic in the village of Kfar Nubul in Idlib province. The groups had no immediate word on casualties.

The Local Coordination Committees said five air raids struck the city of Idlib but did not give further details.

Idlib is a stronghold of Syrian insurgent groups and is regularly targeted by Syrian and Russian warplanes.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Saturday that government forces regained control of the village of Kawkab and repelled an attack on the town of Qamhana.

The Observatory reported intense clashes in the area, adding that under the pressure of shelling and airstrikes, insurgents had to withdraw from some recently gained areas.

On Wednesday, insurgents advanced to within a few miles of the government-held city of Hama in their new offensive spearheaded by an al-Qaida-linked group.

The fighting forced thousands of civilians to flee the area, according to international aid groups.

A Section on 03/26/2017

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