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Syrian hospital hit in artillery attacks on Afrin, at least 18 killed

The escalation comes days after Syrian regime shelling on rebel-held Idlib enclave killed 12 people on Thursday
Members of Syria's Civil Defence service (White Helmets) sift through the rubble at Al-Shifaa hospital (AFP)

Shelling of the rebel-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 18 people on Saturday, many of them when a hospital was hit, a war monitor said.

The first attack struck a residential area, while the second hit a hospital shortly afterwards, civil defence sources said. Video footage on social media showed casualties amid the ruins of the Al Shifa hospital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, two women and two children died at the hospital in the city, which is held by Turkish-backed rebels.

A rebel commander also died at the hospital, the Observatory said, adding that 23 people were injured.

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An AFP correspondent shot footage of white-helmeted aid workers in the hospital courtyard strewn with bodies.

"The shelling targeted several areas of the town and hit the hospital", Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahmane told AFP.

"Most of the victims died in shelling on the hospital," the monitoring group said in a statement, warning the casualty toll could rise further with some of the wounded in a critical condition.

The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province "where militia faithful to Iran and the (Syrian) regime are deployed, near the zones run by Kurdish forces", the Britain-based group said.

Ankara condemned the missile attack it said was launched by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, though the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed militia force spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG, said it was not responsible.

Turkey regards the YPG as a "terrorist" group tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside its own borders, and has staged incursions into Syria in support of Syrian rebels to push it from the Turkish frontier.

The region, like all areas held by pro-Turkish rebels, regularly witnesses targeted killings, bombings and shootings.

Syrian regime shelling on the opposition-held Idlib enclave killed 12 people on Thursday, one of the deadliest violations of a 15-month-old ceasefire, the war monitor said.

Regime forces have also been responsible for scores of attacks on hospitals over the course of the decade-long war.

The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.