Syria: 39 killed in weapons depot blast; explosion's origin unknown
An explosion of unknown origin at a weapons depot in a rebel-held town in northwest Syria's Sarmada in Idlib province killed at least 39 civilians, including a dozen children, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. Rescue workers used a bulldozer to remove rubble and extract trapped people in the explosion due to which two buildings collapsed, according to an AFP correspondent. Here's more.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' head, Rami Abdel Rahman, said a previous death toll of 12 civilians increased after more bodies were retrieved. "The explosion occurred in a weapons depot in a residential building in Sarmada," said Rahman of the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. But the cause of the blast was "not yet clear", he added.
Abdel Rahman said most of those killed were family members of fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by jihadists from Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of Homs. A rescue worker carried the motionless body of a small child from the wreckage to an ambulance, the AFP correspondent said.
Behind mounds of rubble, the facade of a building was scorched black, due to a fire after the blast. A civil defense source said women and children were among the dead. But rescue workers pulled out "five people who were still alive", the source said.
Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but the Islamic State also has sleeper cells there. The regime holds a small slither of southeastern Idlib. In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations, mainly targeting rebel officials and fighters, rocked Idlib. While some attacks have been claimed by IS, most are the result of infighting since last year.
President Bashar al-Assad warned that government forces intend to retake Idlib after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory elsewhere. Around 2.5 million people live in Idlib, half of them displaced by fighting in other parts of Syria. Over 350,000 people have been killed, and millions displaced since Syria's civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.