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Suspected Russian raids in Syria kill 36

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Beirut: Suspected Russian air strikes killed 36 people in Idlib province of northwest Syria today, a monitor said, as the Arab League welcomed a UN-backed roadmap to end the country’s conflict.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of those killed in the raids — “probably Russian” — on positions held by the Army of Conquest rebel group were fighters.

The Army of Conquest is a coalition that includes Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front and Islamist groups such as its ally Ahrar al-Sham.

Russia began a wave of air strikes on September 30 targeting the Islamic State jihadist group (IS) and what Moscow calls “terrorist” organisations.

But the West and Syrian rebel movements accuse the Russians of focusing their raids more on groups battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is due in Moscow tomorrow for talks with Russian officials to coordinate efforts to defeat IS.

Elsewhere in Syria, pro-regime forces today seized a strategic rebel stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo, the Observatory and Syrian media reported.

“The army and loyalist forces now control Khan Tuman and surrounding farms in Aleppo province,” the official SANA news agency reported.

Khan Tuman was the scene of fierce clashes between loyalist forces, including fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah, and Islamist rebels, said the Observatory.

Abdel Rahman said the battle for the key site saw “heavy bombardments and at least 40 raids by Syrian and Russian warplanes on the region”.

The Britain-based monitoring group said 16 Islamists were killed but it did not have details of casualties on the government side.

Since mid-October, with air support from the Russians, Syrian forces have recaptured several areas in the north from Islamist forces including Al-Nusra Front.

Human Rights Watch charged today that government forces and their Russian allies have been making “extensive” use of cluster munitions.

The New York-based rights watchdog said in a report that it had documented the use of cluster munitions against rebels on 20 occasions since September 30.

HRW “collected detailed information about attacks in nine locations that have killed at least 35 civilians, including five women and 17 children, and injured dozens”, the report said.