Airstrikes on Idlib and shelling on north Syria kills 50 people

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- At least 50 people have been killed by heavy airstrikes by Syrian government planes and their Russian allies on rebel-held areas surrounding Idlib and rebel retaliatory shelling of Aleppo, a monitoring group and activists said on Monday.
Late Monday, rebels shelled areas under Syrian government control on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 20 others, the Britain-based Syrian observatory for Human Rights said
Earlier, at least 37 people were killed when Russian warplanes bombarded a public market in Syria's north-western province of Idlib, the watchdog said.

It added that 105 people were also wounded in the strike in the city of Maaret al-Numann, and that more people were still under the rubble. 
Syrian government planes also later hit the city of Saraqeb, killing at least six people, the observatory said.
"This is the largest massacre to take place since the offensive started in April," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory, told dpa.
Since late April, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian air power, have been waging a massive campaign against rebels in the provinces of Hama and Idlib, the last major opposition strongholds in the country.
The offensive has so far killed 2,648 people, including 756 civilians, and displaced more than 300,000 people, according to the observatory.
Russia's military denied conducting the airstrike on Monday.
Russia's air force "has not conducted any such mission in this part of the Syrian Arab Republic," the Russian Defence Ministry said in an emailed statement.
Russia is the main military ally of controversial al-Assad in the Middle Eastern country's devastating, multi-sided civil war.
Activists and residents near the marketplace said that some 50 shops and a dozen four-floor buildings were destroyed, as planes carried out four consecutive raids on the same area.
"The Russians can deny what they want but we are 100-per-cent sure that the market and the centre of the city were hit by Russian planes ... these are purely civilian areas," Omar al-Soud, a resident of Maaret al-Numaan, told dpa by phone. 
Fareed, an activist, said there is only one small hospital in the city, which is why some of the wounded were being transferred outside the city.
Residents said black smoke billowed over the city centre and citizens were on the street crying for help.
"This is a real massacre," one man shouted as he walked amid the damage inside the market.
Among those killed was a member of the White Helmets rescue team, activists said.
The White Helmets in a statement accused Russian planes of killing one of its volunteers and scores of other people.
"The Russian jets accomplished their usual mission of targeting civilian areas and marketplaces by conducting four strikes that resulted in the massive destrction and left tens of casualties at the marketplace's busisest time," the statement said. 
A video posted on social media showed a veiled woman calling on US President Donald Trump to stop this "massacre against civilians."
"Mr Trump, only you can stop this," she shouted in English.
In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday received a letter from Pope Francis, the state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA) reported.
According to SANA, Pope Francis reiterated his support for restoring stability in Syria and called for ending the suffering of the Syrian people.

Tuesday, July 23rd 2019
Weedah Hamzah (dpa)

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