At least 18 killed in shelling attack on opposition-held Syria town
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 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, two women and two children died at Al-Shifaa 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.
An agency 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 journalists.
"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.
Syria's Idlib: A humanitarian disaster
The battle for Idlib is likely to be the last, bloody conflict in the Syrian war. Refugees are fleeing the city in droves. By Diana Hodali
On the run: traffic is heavy on the roads heading north through the Idlib region toward the Turkish border. Soldiers of the Assad regime are advancing from the south and east, aided by their Russian and Iranian allies. Some Syrian rebel groups are supported by Turkey, which also has soldiers of its own in the region. But ordinary people just want to reach safety
"The horror has multiplied": almost 1 million people have been displaced since December. According to UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, "the horror has multiplied" in the past two weeks. The front lines are closing in, triggering large movements of people in the space of just a few days. Assad wants to drive the civilian population out of Idlib province, and is moving to capture this last rebel stronghold
Bombed to pieces: Maaret al-Numan and the surrounding area has been particularly badly hit by the attacks. The city has been bombed to pieces and is practically deserted. The important M5 highway runs through here, from Damascus via Aleppo to the Turkish border. Most of those fleeing are trying to make it to Turkey – but the border is closed
Waiting at the border: around 100 people, including 35 children, died in bombings in the first half of February alone, according to the United Nations, which has spoken of the "blatant disregard for the life and safety of civilians." This family fled to the Turkish border months ago. They're living in the Kafr Lusin refugee camp, holding on to the hope that Turkey will eventually let them in
500,000 children in need: out of the almost 1 million people who have fled it's estimated that around half are children. Of the rest, the majority are women. There aren't enough shacks at the Turkish border to house them all, and many refugees are living in tents. Camps are often set up in haste and are severely overcrowded. People are sleeping in doorways and on pieces of cardboard, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures
Little food and medicine: those who have been able to find a tent usually share it with about a dozen family members. Medicine is running out in many of the camps, and basic food and clothing is also becoming scarce. Doctors on the ground report that many children are suffering from malnutrition, and some are even dying of starvation. The cold is also taking its toll, and some people have already frozen to death
Refuge in a school: many children in the region can no longer go to school, so some school buildings have been re-purposed. This school has been turned into a refugee shelter – sometimes, even the refugee camps are targeted in bombing raids
Trying to reach safety: the illegal route across the border to Turkey is costly; hardly anyone can afford it. Smugglers are charging people up to $2,000. Those who do make the attempt are risking their lives: Turkish border guards have thermal imaging cameras to help them spot people trying to cross. Sometimes they shoot at refugees who try to climb over the wall
Looking for dignity: the UN has said the situation in Idlib could be the greatest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. No one knows whether or not there will be a ceasefire. The refugees don't care who puts an end to the war; they just want a life of safety and dignity, for themselves and for their children. A four-way summit between Turkey, Russia, France and Germany, planned for 5 March, is now in jeopardy
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.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.
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.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations. (AFP)