August 24, 2019 / 1:41 PM / 25 days ago

Car blast, air strikes hit Syria's Idlib city - monitor

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded in the rebel-held Syrian city of Idlib on Saturday, a war monitor and opposition news channel said, as air strikes hit its outskirts in a government offensive on the last major opposition bastion.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition-run Orient News said a car blew up in the al-Qusoor neighbourhood. The Observatory said the blast killed two and wounded at least 11.

The city and the surrounding Idlib province in northwest Syria form part of the last big rebel stronghold in Syria.

A new push by Syrian government and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a new civilian exodus. Hundreds of people have been killed in the campaign since late April, the United Nations says.

On Friday Russia-backed Syrian troops reclaimed a cluster of towns they had lost early in the eight-year-old war, driving out the last rebel fighters from the Hama countryside.

Idlib city itself has largely been spared air strikes since a major bombing campaign on the territory began in late April, but on Saturday its outskirts were hit from the air, the Observatory and opposition media said.

Heavy strikes continued to hit the south of Idlib province, including around Maarat al-Numan, a city that has been a sanctuary for families fleeing former rebel areas around the country. This week tens of thousands fled to Syria’s border with Turkey as the fighting advanced.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Ros Russell

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