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Dozens of civilians killed in Syria airstrikes as peace talks start

At least 33 civilians have been killed in airstrikes carried out by the Syrian regime as new peace talks are due to begin in Russia.

At least 11 died in a regime attack on a vegetable market in Saraqeb, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The town is in Idlib province, where forces loyal to Bashar al Assad are fighting jihadists.

Five others were also killed on Monday and 17 on Sunday in raids on various parts of the province, much of which is controlled by a jihadist group affiliated to al Qaeda.


Operation Olive Branch. Crawford VT

Video:
Under fire in Syria with Turkish forces

Meanwhile, delegates arrived in the Russian city of Sochi for a conference aimed at providing a political solution to the conflict.

Separate UN-backed talks in Vienna last week ended without any indication that warring parties met face-to-face to discuss a way forward.

But Russia, which supports the Assad regime both diplomatically and on the ground militarily, hopes to push the country towards creating a post-war constitution.

It will be hampered by the absence from the talks of the main opposition group, which has said it will boycott the event.


Video:
Fresh fighting in Syria sees thousands flee

The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) said following the talks in Vienna it would not attend the Sochi congress.

It has accused Assad’s regime and Russia of continuing to rely on military force and showing no willingness to enter into honest negotiations.

Despite inviting 1,600 people to the event, the Kremlin has downplayed expectations, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that “breakthroughs in the task of political regulation in Syria are hardly possible”.

He added, however, that the absences will not “disrupt this congress or undermine its importance,” calling the Sochi talks a “very important” step towards peace.

A family said to have been wounded in a Turkish airstrike on a village in the Afrin district
Image:
A family said to have been wounded in a Turkish airstrike on a village in the Afrin district

The UN is taking part but more than three dozen other Syrian rebel groups have said they will not come to Sochi and authorities from Syria’s Kurdish autonomous region said on Sunday they would not participate.

Kurdish forces are under pressure from Turkish troops who have launched an offensive against them in the northern Syrian district of Afrin.

There have also been reports of civilians being injured in Turkish airstrikes around Afrin.

Syrian troops have been advancing on Idlib since they launched a major offensive in December with the aid of Russia.

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