Syrian government artillery shells struck a village in the last rebel enclave in the country, killing four children from the same family, rescue workers and a war monitor have said.
The rescue workers in opposition areas, known as the White Helmets, said the shells landed on Saturday in residential neighbourhoods in the village of Qastoun, west of Hama province, seriously injuring five other people.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a war monitor, also said that four children were killed in the attack.
The shelling is part of an ongoing military escalation in the northwestern Syria area, which had been under a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey since last year.
The Idlib region is home to nearly three million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country during the decade-long civil war.
It is dominated by Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate but various other opposition groups are also present.
The army stepped up its bombing of the northwestern enclave when President Bashar al-Assad took his oath of office for a new term, vowing to make “liberating those parts of the homeland that still need to be” one of his top priorities.
Syria’s government, which agreed to the Russia-Turkey negotiated truce last year, has pledged to restore control over territory it has lost during the 10-year conflict.
The truce in March 2020 was negotiated between Turkey, which supports Syria’s opposition and has troops deployed in the area, and Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer.
At the time, it halted a crushing Russian-backed government air and ground campaign aimed at retaking the region.
Government forces have also been battling fighters in the southern province of Deraa.
The latest round of fighting, which began last month in the area, has been described by the SOHR as the heaviest clashes since most of the Deraa province came back under government control in 2018.
Many former rebels stayed in Deraa instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal three years ago, and have either joined the army or remained in control of parts of the province.