Russia has conducted airstrikes on north-west Syria in the early hours of this morning, killing at least 15 Syrian civilians fleeing from the conflict just hours before its crucial meeting with Turkey.
According to the UK-based organisation the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Russia conducted the airstrikes shortly after midnight, targeting an area in which displaced Syrians gathered outside the town of Ma'arrat Misrin in the country's north-western Idlib province.
Apart from destroying the surrounding buildings and a poultry farm where the families had been living, it immediately killed 15 of the civilians and injured numerous others.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, a hospital worker named Abedalrazzaq Zaqzooq reported that the Russian strikes had no mercy and deliberately targeted them even after the first strike hit. "As first responders and other civilians gathered around at the site, the Russian plane struck again."
After eight missiles hit the poultry farm, where around 50 of the displaced Syrians were living, at least 20 were taken to the hospital. Zaqzooq recounted the effects of the air strikes, saying that
The most devastating image I saw with my own eyes was the arrival of two babies to the hospital…They were both under six months and were rescued from under the rubble but were pronounced dead at the hospital.
It was also reported that most of those targeted and hit were women and children, with at least nine women among those killed in the strikes.
The head of the volunteer medical organisation Syrian Civil Defence – the White Helmets – in Idlib, Mustafa Al-Haj Yousef, said that "The number of casualties is expected to go up because some of those injured are in critical condition…The regime is continuing its scorched earth policy with no regards to civilian lives."
The strikes and the killing of the displaced Syrians came just hours before the crucial meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow today, which is being held in order to come up with a solution to the violence in Idlib province.
The Syrian regime's campaign to capture the province was launched in April last year, despite an agreement between Turkey and Russia that it would become a de-escalation zone for Syrian civilians. That agreement is to be discussed and potentially re-enforced today in the meeting between Turkey and Russia, particularly following Turkey's taregtting of Syrian regime forces throughout the past week as part of its "Operation Spring Shield".