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Blast in Syria's Afrin Kills at Least 9 as Dozens Die in Idlib Fighting

Blast in Syria's Afrin Kills at Least 9 as Dozens Die in Idlib Fighting

Thursday, 11 July, 2019 - 11:15
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in Maryamayn in eastern Afrin, Syria March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Ankara- Asharq Al-Awsat

A car bomb went off Thursday at the entrance to a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkish forces and allied Syrian fighters, killing at least nine people, Turkish state media and Syrian rescuers said.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the bomb in a fuel truck exploded in Afrin, igniting a fire and causing considerable damage to the surrounding area. Syrian first responders, known as the White Helmets, said at least nine people were killed in the explosion, which occurred in a residential area, and 35 were wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 11 and said it is likely to rise because some of the injuries were serious. The Observatory said the blast occurred near a checkpoint at the entrance to the town where vehicles were lined up.

Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin last year in a military operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin terrorists. Since then there have been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area.

Turkey supports the Syrian opposition in the war against regime leader Bashar Assad but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local ceasefires. Turkish troops have also crossed into Syria in recent years to battle Kurdish fighters and ISIS militants operating along the border, setting up bases in the area.

Separately, regime and militant-led forces were locked in clashes Thursday on the edge of an opposition bastion in northwest Syria after a militant-led advance that killed 80 fighters overnight, a war monitor said.

Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up their deadly bombardment of the Idlib region -- administered by Syria's former al-Qaida affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and home to some three million people -- since late April, despite a months-old international truce deal.

Clashes have also raged on the edges of the region, including in the north of Hama province.

Late Wednesday, HTS and allied opposers took control of Hamameyat village and hilltop, in clashes that killed 46 regime fighters and 36 opposition fighters, the Observatory said.

"The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday morning.

HTS spokesman Abu Khaled al-Shami said the militants attacked after dark, taking control of the "heavily fortified" hill from fighters loyal to Assad.

Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for the allied National Liberation Front opposition grouping, said: "The hill is very strategic because it overlooks... supply routes to enemy forces."

A September deal between Russia and Turkey was supposed to avert a massive regime offensive on Idlib, but it was never fully implemented and HTS took full administrative control in January.

More than 550 civilians have been killed in regime and Russian airstrikes on northwest Syria since the end of April, according to the Observatory.

Airstrikes on Wednesday alone killed 11 civilians, among them four children, including in raids that knocked a hospital out of service, the monitor said.

The United Nations says 25 health facilities in the region have been hit, while the fighting has forced 330,000 people to flee their homes.

Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests.

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