Syria war: Jihadist assault 'kills dozens of soldiers'

Up to 40 Syrian soldiers have been killed in an assault by hundreds of militants in north-western Syria, according to Russia’s defence ministry.

The ministry, which supports Syria’s government, said there were several attacks in which the militants seized two settlements in Idlib province.

Syrian state media said members of a jihadist alliance had set off car bombs and used heavy fire as they targeted positions in the Maarat al-Numan area.

But they did not mention casualties.

A Syrian military source was cited as saying army units were redeployed to the area and eventually repelled the attacks “with high efficiency”.

A spokesman for National Liberation Front rebel alliance, Naji Mustafa, said the assault had taken place earlier this week.

Idlib is the last stronghold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad and home to three million people, of whom 76% are women and children.

The Syria Civil Defence, whose volunteers are known as the White Helmets, said a women and her two children had died in the village of Arnabah after midnight, and that three children and two adults died when the town of Saraqeb was bombed.

On Tuesday, air strikes by Russian and Syrian government warplanes reportedly killed at least 28 people, including a family of eight in the village of Kfar Taal.

The European Union condemned the repeated air strikes and shelling of targeting civilians on Thursday, saying they were “unacceptable and must cease”.

“The EU will keep the sanctions against the Assad regime under review as long as these brutal attacks continue,” it added.

The incidents came as pro-government forces continued their offensive in Idlib.

Almost 350,000 civilians, 80% of them women and children, have been displaced by the fighting since hostilities escalated at the start of December, the United Nations has said.

An estimated 400,000 fled their homes between May and August. The International Rescue Committee has warned that 650,000 could be at risk of displacement if the violence continues

A cessation of hostilities agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey, which backs the opposition, went into effect earlier this month, but the violence has continued.

The UN has said the current crisis is compounding an already dire humanitarian situation in north-western Syria, where 32% of the newly displaced are living in camps or individual tents.

The winter weather is adding another layer of urgency to the situation, with flooding frequently affecting camps and informal settlements, and many families seeking shelter in unfinished buildings.

There is also a shortage of medical supplies and functioning medical facilities. At least 50 health facilities have been attacked in Idlib in the past year.

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