Middle East

Syria conflict: Russian air strikes 'kill 45 in Latakia'

Burned-out Syrian army tank in the Jabal al-Akrad region of Latakia province, Syria (14 September 2012) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rebel fighters seized control of the mountainous Jabal al-Akrad region in 2012

At least 45 people have been killed in Russian air strikes on a rebel-held area of north-western Syria, a monitoring group says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Russian warplanes bombed the rugged Jabal al-Akrad region of Latakia province on Monday afternoon.

The commander of a Western-backed Free Syrian Army brigade and the families of rebels were among the dead, it added.

Russia said it had targeted Islamic State militants in Latakia on Monday.

However, activists say the jihadist group has little or no presence in the coastal province, which is a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect.

Civilian casualties

Moderate and Islamist rebel groups took control of Jabal al-Akrad in 2012.

From positions in the mountainous region, they have been able to shell the city of Latakia's airport and Qardaha, the president's ancestral village.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Russia says it is targeting IS militants, but rebels say they have little or no presence in Jabal al-Akrad

Jabal al-Akrad has been targeted several times by Russian warplanes since Moscow launched an air campaign to bolster Mr Assad on 30 September.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory's director, Rami Abdul Rahman, said dozens of people were also wounded in Monday's raids, and that the death toll was likely to rise because many were in a serious condition.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition activist network, reported that 57 people were killed in Latakia province on Monday, most of them in Russian air strikes.

It said the attacks were focused on the village of Bisharfeh, and that the casualties included many children and women.

It also identified the rebel commander who died as Basil Zimmo, the chief-of-staff of the FSA's 1st Coastal Division and a former captain in the Syrian military.

The 1st Coastal Division is believed to have been supplied with US-made TOW anti-tank missiles as part of US-backed programme assisting moderate rebels.

The commander of another such group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Brigades, was killed in fighting south of the city of Aleppo on Monday, as a government offensive in the area has reportedly displaced tens of thousands of people.

Syria's civil war

Why is there a war in Syria?

Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that four years on has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

What's the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured. Some 11 million others have been forced from their homes, of whom four million have fled abroad - including growing numbers who are making the dangerous journey to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Iran, Russia and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. Hezbollah and Iran have pro-Assad forces on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.

The battle for Syria and Iraq in maps

Syria: The story of the conflict