An airstrike on a rebel-held village in northwestern Syria hit a poultry farm where several displaced families were taking shelter early Thursday, killing at least 15 people including children while wounding several others, opposition activists said.
The activists blamed Russian warplanes for the strike on Maaret Musreen village, which is home to thousands of internally displaced people.
The strike came hours ahead of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the escalation in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, which comes amid a months long Russian-backed Syrian government offensive there.
Nearly a million people have been displaced by the fighting in Idlib — Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold — and hundreds have been killed. Many of the displaced have fled north toward the sealed border with Turkey.
Turkey and Russia are the two main power brokers in Syria and each supports rival sides in the nine-year conflict.
Violence worsened in Idlib in recent weeks, with Turkey sending thousands of troops into the area to support Syrian insurgents holed up there. But Erdogan hasn’t been able to halt Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offensive, which began in early December.
Syrian and Turkish troops have engaged in deadly battles, leaving at least 58 Turkish soldiers dead since the beginning of February as well as scores of Syrian soldiers. Direct fighting between Turkish and Syrian government forces had been rare throughout the war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday’s airstrike hit a poultry farm used as a settlement for internally displaced Syrians, killing 15 people including women and children. It said 18 others were wounded.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence group, also known as the White Helmets, blamed Russian warplanes for the strike as well. They said 14 people were killed, including five women and two children.
A young man who said he survived the attack told The Associated Press said he was inside a building with his father when the airstrike hit. He suffered a minor injury to his face. He said he called out and searched for survivors, and that an ambulance arrived at the same time as his father made it out of the destroyed building.
Paramedics were seen removing debris before dawn Thursday, using flashlights to reach some of the victims buried under the rubble. Chickens could be seen in the vicinity as the rescue operations took place, according to Associated Press video.
Photos of the strike posted by the Civil Defence showed paramedics using a bulldozer to remove a ceiling that had apparently collapsed on top of people. Civil Defence said it had finished recovering bodies from under the rubble by Thursday morning.
Step news agency, an activist collective, said 16 people were killed including five children and also said that 18 people were wounded.
Such discrepancies on casualty figures are not uncommon in the immediate aftermath of attacks in Syria.