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Four members of one family among civilians 'killed in Russian air strikes' in Syria's Idlib

UK-based activist group says five civilians died in village of Bala in Idlib province despite ceasefire agreed last weekend
Syrians make their way through the rubble of a building following an air strike on Ariha town in Idlib on 15 January (AFP)

A Russian air strike in northwest Syria on Saturday killed five civilians, including four from the same family, according to a UK-based activist group.

"A man, his wife, and their two little girls were among those killed," said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.

The Observatory said the five civilians were killed after midnight Friday in the village of Bala in Idlib province. 

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An AFP correspondent at a hospital in the area saw the bodies of two of the children wrapped up in thick winter blankets.

The strike created a massive crater of rubble near a two-storey home flanked by an empty outdoor swimming pool, the correspondent said.

The air strike is the second in less than a week to kill civilians in Syria’s last major opposition stronghold Idlib. 

On Wednesday, air strikes by Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, killed at least 20 civilians and injured dozens more in Idlib city and several nearby towns. 

Fighting there since Wednesday has killed 28 civilians, including eight children, according to the Observatory.

Fifty-eight pro-government fighters and 67 opposition fighters have been killed in the same period, it said.

On Thursday, the UN said around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the latest offensive in Idlib province since early December.

Russian denial

The offensives have been carried out despite a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey last weekend.

Russia denied on Thursday violating the ceasefire, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would discuss the attacks on Sunday at a meeting in Berlin with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

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In September, Turkey, Russia and Iran had agreed to "de-escalate" the situation in Idlib after a months-long campaign forced at least 500,000 civilians, mainly women and children, to flee.

Russia intervened in Syria's long-running war four years ago in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while neighbouring Turkey and some Gulf states supported rebel groups that rose up against him. 

Assad, who has been in power for 19 years, has repeatedly vowed to reclaim the rebel-held territory. 

The conflict, now approaching its ninth year, has devastated much of the country. About half a million people have been killed and millions more have been forced to live as refugees.