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Children among 39 civilians killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor

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    Agence France-Presse

Beirut, Lebanon | Sun, August 12, 2018 | 08:42 pm
Children among 39 civilians killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor A picture taken in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus on April 27, 2018 shows smoke billowing in the area during Syrian army shelling and airstrikes. Syrian regime forces advanced against Islamic State group jihadists in the south of Damascus, state media said, after more than a week of bombardment on the area. (AFP/Rami Al Sayed)

An explosion at a weapons depot in a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 39 civilians including a dozen children on Sunday, a monitor said.

An AFP correspondent at the site in Sarmada in Idlib province near the Turkish border said the explosion of unknown origin caused two buildings to collapse.

Rescue workers used a bulldozer to remove rubble and extract trapped people, the correspondent said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said a previous toll of 12 civilians killed increased after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble.

"The explosion occurred in a weapons depot in a residential building in Sarmada," said the head of the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

But the cause of the blast was "not yet clear", Abdel Rahman added.

He 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 defence source told AFP that women and children were among the dead. 

But rescue workers had 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 group also has sleeper cells in the area.

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.

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