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12 children killed in ‘bloodiest of days’ in northwest Syria

Three separate attacks targeted busy marketplaces in northwest Syria, producing a brutal death toll Monday in the war-torn area, according to local volunteer and rights groups. At least 19 people were killed, 12 of them children.

In the province of Idlib, Syria’s last major opposition bastion, airstrikes ripped through two marketplaces, killing at least nine people in Maarat al-Numan and nearby Saraqeb, said a volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets.

At least four of the dead in the attack on Maarat al-Numan were children, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

Footage released by the White Helmets showed members carrying bodies away from the scene in the town of Maarat al-Numan, where lettuce and onions were strewn on the blood-stained ground.

Another video from the same town shared by the White Helmets pictured a young girl, her face covered in blood, crying next to her brother and calling for their father. “Please tell me my dad is still alive, please be alive my dad,” she says.

CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of these videos.

The White Helmets rescue group blamed the attack on the government of embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, which routinely carries out airstrikes in the area with Russia’s help. The Syrian government in the past has said they are targeting terrorists in Idlib, where its forces are pushing to retake the country’s few remaining opposition holdouts.

Hours later, a separate attack

Hours after the strikes in Idlib, a separate attack killed eight more children and two others in another market in the town of Tal Rifaat in the neighboring province, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). At least eight additional children were injured, according to UNICEF.

The UN children’s agency said it was “shocked and saddened” by the reported deaths. Monday’s attacks bring the number of children killed in northern Syria to at least 34 over just the past four weeks, UNICEF said.

Hassan Hassan, a resident of Tal Rifaat, told CNN that Monday’s attack hit a local market where children had been playing. He said that many of those killed and injured were Kurds displaced from Afrin after Turkey’s assault there in 2018.

And Ibrahim Sheikho, a spokesperson for a local rights group called Human Rights of Afrin, told CNN that the eight children killed in the attack were between three and 15 years old. He said that he expected the death toll to rise due to the severity of injuries.

The SDF has blamed Turkish forces and ‘Turkish-backed militias’ for the attack, which they said launched artillery and mortars at the town. Syrian Kurds and US officials said earlier this month that Turkish-backed groups continued to conduct attacks in the area, despite a ceasefire negotiated last month.

Neither Turkey nor the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army or FSA (also called the Syrian National Army) have responded to the accusations of Monday’s attack on Tal Rifat. CNN has reached out to both for comment.

According to Sheikho, the town of Tal Rifaat has more than 22,000 internally displaced people, mostly Kurdish, who are from Afrin. He described the area as controlled by the Syrian government, but said that only Russian forces are seen inside the town.

Syria’s eight-year-long civil war has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.

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