Airstrikes in Syria killed up to 22 people, mostly children, Wednesday when warplanes struck a residential area housing a school complex in the northern rebel-held province of Idlib, activists and rescue workers said.
A team of first responders, the Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib, said 22 people were killed and at least 50 wounded in the raids on the village of Hass. Most of those killed were children, the group said in a posting on its Facebook page.
The activist-operated Idlib News network, which gave a lower toll of 17 people killed, said the strikes hit as the children were gathered outside the school complex. It said the death toll could rise as some of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition.
Idlib is the main Syrian opposition stronghold, though radical groups also have a large presence there.
Earlier in the day, the northern Aleppo province saw a new escalation as a helicopter believed to belong to Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs in a deadly attack on Turkey-backed opposition forces in the border area, Turkish officials said.
A statement attributed to the field commander of Syria's pro-government troops said any Turkish advances in northern Syria under the pretext of fighting Daesh (ISIS) militants would be dealt with "forcefully and appropriately."
The barrel bombing was said to have occurred in the village of Tal Madiq, in a part of northern Aleppo where rival groups have been operating, mostly to rout Daesh militants.
If confirmed, it would be the first attack by Syrian regime forces on the Turkish-backed fighters. Turkey's state-run news agency didn't say when the attack occurred and said at least two Syrian opposition fighters were killed and five others wounded. A Syrian opposition spokesman said it took place Tuesday.
The chief of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said helicopters struck as intense clashes were underway between Kurdish-led fighters and Turkey-backed forces in Tal Madiq and that 11 Syrian opposition and five Kurdish fighters were killed.
The Kurdish-led forces are now in control of the village, about 16 kilometers from the highly prized Daesh-controlled town of Al-Bab. A senior Kurdish commander, however, denied Syrian government bombings of the Turkey-backed fighters, saying it was an attempted explanation for battlefield losses.
"They are trying to find a pretext for the loss. No aircraft were involved," Mahmoud Barkhadan of the main Syria Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units, said by telephone from the region.
A spokesman for the Syrian fighting group Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Yasser al-Youssef, said the Kurdish-led forces attacked them while they were fighting Daesh militants in the area. Then Syrian government helicopters followed, he said in a message.
The complex terrain is a powder keg where confrontation among rival groups can break out anytime: U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and Turkey. Ankara sent tanks, troops and aircraft into northern Syria in August in an unprecedented incursion that it said was part of efforts to help Syrian opposition clear the border area of Daesh fighters.But Ankara is also seeking to contain the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces fighting Daesh, putting it at odds with its key ally, the United States. Ankara sees Kurdish fighters in Syria as an extension of its outlawed Kurdish militants and designated as a terrorist organization.
However, also Wednesday the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Kurdish YPG militia fighters will be included as a part of the force to isolate the Daesh-held Syrian city of Raqqa.
"Turkey doesn't want to see us operating with the SDF anywhere, particularly in Raqqa," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said. "We're having talks with Turkey and we're going to take this in steps."
A statement Wednesday attributed to the field commander of pro-government troops said Turkish advance under the pretext of fighting Daesh in northern and eastern Aleppo is an encroachment on the Syrian government's area of operations and would not be tolerated.
The fall of Al-Bab to Turkey-backed rebels would threaten the government's siege on the rebels in the city of Aleppo, to the west.
Source: National News Agency