Russian airstrikes kill 45 pro-ceasefire Syrian rebels
Russian airstrikes have killed 45 members of a regime opposition group in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor has said.
It was unclear why the airstrikes targeted members of the Faylaq al-Sham rebel group, which has taken part in peace talks supervised by Moscow in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The Observatory initially reported a lower death toll, but said the figure had risen as bodies were recovered after the strike on one of the rebel group's headquarters on the outskirts of the village of Tal Mardikh.
Faylaq al-Sham is an anti-Assad rebel group considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The group has fought against the former al-Qaeda affiliate that now effectively controls nearly the whole of Idlib province after chasing its former rebel allies from their positions in fighting this summer.
A spokesman for Faylaq al-Sham confirmed the group's headquarters had been targeted, despite their participation in the last round of talks in Astana.
"Our participation in Astana does not in any way mean that Russia is a friendly or neutral country," Idriss al-Raed told AFP.
"The Russian bombing is not surprising, since its policy since its intervention in Syria is based on criminality and killing," he added.
The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.
The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.