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Dozens of civilians dead in Syria arms depot blast

Rescue operation after a blast in Idlib on 12 August [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 August, 2018

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At least 39 people died in a blast in Idlib on Sunday that collapsed two buildings and left civilians trapped under rubble.

A blast at a weapons depot in rebel-held northwest Syria killed at least 39 civilians, including a dozen children, on Sunday.

The explosion caused two buildings - located in Sarmada in Idlib province - to collapse. Rescue workers were seen using a bulldozer to remove rubble and extract trapped people, an AFP correspondent reported.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said the prior toll of 12 civilians went up after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble.

He said the cause of the blast was "not yet clear".

Abdel Rahman said that most of those killed were family members of fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group with links to al-Qaeda, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of Homs.

Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but the Islamic State group also has sleeper cells in the area and have targeted opposition forces.

The regime holds a small slither of southeastern Idlib.

In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations - mainly targeting rebel officials and fighters - have rocked the province.

While some attacks have been claimed by IS, most are the result of infighting since last year between other groups.

In recent days, regime forces have also ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control.

On Friday, 12 civilians, three of them children, were killed in regime bombardment of the towns of Khan Sheikhoun and al-Tah.

President Bashar al-Assad has warned that his forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory elsewhere.

Idlib is the last of four "de-escalation" zones agreed by world powers in 2017 where the rebels still have a major presence. 

Rebels and civilians bussed out of the other three zones when they fell to the regime were taken to Idlib, increasing its population to around 2.5 million people. 

The UN warned in May that an assault on Idlib could be six times more destructive than that witnessed in Eastern Ghouta.

The war in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal regime crackdown on protesters.

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