Russia Denies Involvement in Airstrike on Idlib

Beirut (AP) -- Airstrikes on a rebel-held city in Syria early Tuesday killed at least 15 people, wounded dozens more and demolished several buildings, in one of the deadliest attacks since a cease-fire went into effect last year, Syrian activists and medics said.

The airstrikes hit the city of Idlib, the capital of a northwestern province of the same name that is almost entirely controlled by Syrian rebels and al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 people were killed, including 10 civilians — mostly women. The opposition-run Civil Defense in Idlib says 15 bodies were pulled from the rubble and that 30 people were taken for medical treatment. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of such attacks.

Opposition activists also reported airstrikes on several suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The government and the opposition have repeatedly traded accusations of violating the cease-fire, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey and went into effect in December, shortly after the government recaptured the northern city of Aleppo.

The Observatory said it was not clear if the airstrikes were carried out by Syrian, Russian or the U.S.-led coalition that has been targeting the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

The Russian military denied that its warplanes have attacked Idlib. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that Russian warplanes haven't conducted a single strike on Idlib this year.

The United Nations on Tuesday called on all parties to the Syrian war to seek an end to the bloodshed.

We deplore the loss of civilian life there as we have in other parts of Syria as the conflict rages," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at U.N. headquarters in New York. "As we see continuing civilian deaths it should redouble everyone's determination to reach a political agreement."

Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, providing a crucial boost for Assad's forces in battles with extremist groups as well as the mainstream opposition.

The airstrikes came a day after Syrian President Bashar Assad said the European Union should have no role in the reconstruction of Syria unless it changes its policy toward the country. He said European countries which support "terrorists" in Syria "cannot destroy and build at the same time." Assad's government views all those fighting against it as terrorists.

In the same interview, given to Belgian media on Monday, Assad said U.S. President Donald Trump's vows to fight terrorism were "promising" but that it's still too early to "expect anything" on the ground. He welcomed the possibility of increased cooperation between the U.S. and his close ally Russia, saying it would be "positive for the rest of the world, including Syria."

When asked about the cease-fire, Assad said "it's not dead, and it's natural in every cease-fire anywhere in the world, in every war, in any conflict, to have these breaches."

Syria's conflict, which began with a 2011 uprising against the Assad family's four-decade rule, has killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed much of the country. The U.N. has estimated that reconstruction will cost around $350 billion.

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