BEIRUT Syrian government warplanes carried out several air strikes against towns in mostly rebel-held Idlib on Tuesday after insurgents fired on two besieged Shi'ite villages in the province, a pro-Damascus media outlet and war monitors said.
The air strikes killed at least six people and wounded 21 others in Maarat Misreen, and left several injured in nearby Binnish, just a few kilometres (miles) from Idlib city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
A military media outlet run by Syrian government ally Hezbollah said the jets had targeted the two towns in response to rebels repeatedly targeting civilians in the two neighbouring Shi'ite-majority villages, al-Foua and Kefraya.
The British-based Observatory said insurgent sniper fire had killed at least three people around al-Foua and Kefraya in the last two days.
The violence came ahead of planned peace talks this week in Geneva. The run-up to the talks, which are to take place nearly two months into a shaky ceasefire, has been tarnished by intensifying violence in the west of the country.
Each side has accused the other of violations of the truce, which was brokered on Dec. 30 by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
Al-Foua and Kefraya, most of whose residents are Shi'ite, have long been a flashpoint area. They are under government control but surrounded by insurgents.
Rebels accused Damascus's Shi'ite ally Iran of holding up a deal to evacuate the last rebel-held areas of northern city Aleppo last year by insisting people in turn be allowed to leave the two villages.
(Reporting by John Davison; editing by Ralph Boulton)