Explosion at Syrian weapons depot kills 39

Idlib the last sanctuary for displaced people from across Syria

At least 53 civilians including 28 children, have been killed in fierce bombardment Friday that targeted rebel-held areas of northern Syria, a war monitor said updating an earlier toll.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said the blast occurred Sunday in the village of Sarmada near the Turkish border and "killed and wounded dozens".

The explosion happened in the town of Sarmada, which is near the Turkish border and north of the provincial capital Idlib city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that 12 children were among the 39 dead. The group said the explosion took place at the bottom of a building that housed ammunition in Bab al-Hawa Square.

But rescue workers had pulled out "five people who were still alive", the source said. The White Helmets has operated in opposition-held parts of Syria throughout Syria's seven-year civil war.

One of the buildings was scorched black after a fire followed the explosion.

Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and jihadists led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but Daesh (ISIS) also has sleeper cells in the area.

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In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations - mainly targeting opposition officials and fighters - have rocked the province.

While some have been claimed by Islamic State, most have been the result of infighting between other groups.

President Bashar Assad has warned that government forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel held territory elsewhere.

Jan Egeland, head of the UN's humanitarian taskforce for Syria, said the war "cannot be allowed to go to Idlib".

A full-fledged assault would be devastating for the estimated 2.5 million people living in Idlib, many of them rebels and civilians bussed out of other areas that came back under regime control.

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