BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian government forces on Thursday shelled villages in the last rebel stronghold in the northwest of the country, killing at least 11 people and sending hundreds to flee, activists and rescuers said.

The bombing hit a residential area in Ablin, a village in Idlib province where opposition fighters and activists still hold territory. Rescuers, known as the White Helmets who operate in opposition zones, said a mother and child along with at least five other civilians were among those killed in the village where at least 10 shells are fallen down.

At least six other people were wounded in the same village, while nearly 40 shells fell in neighboring villages, according to a statement from the White Helmets. Opposition activists and aid workers said the shelling had lasted for a few days and had intensified since Monday.

Mark Cutts, the UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, tweeted on Wednesday his condemnation of what he called the “great escalation of artillery shelling by Syrian government forces in southern Idlib.” He said the shelling claimed civilian lives and struck near a camp for internally displaced people, destroying a compound used as a school.

Mohammed Halaj, an aid worker who coordinates between local groups and UN emergency response, said at least 110 families – more than 600 people – have fled the bombings. Those who flee will head to IDP camps if the violence continues, he said.

The White Helmets claimed that the bombardments were aimed at driving people from their land at harvest time.

The rebel-held enclave straddling the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo is home to 4 million people, more than 2.7 million of whom are internally displaced and mostly living in camps and temporary shelters. Many have escaped repeated rounds of military offensives and fighting.

Turkey and Russia, which back rival parties in the 10-year Syrian conflict, reached a ceasefire agreement in March 2020 that ended a Russian-backed government offensive on Idlib.

But military operations have not ceased entirely, with limited violence occasionally erupting as government forces attempt to make piecemeal advances in the enclave dominated by al-Qaida-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. .

Reports from media sites operated by militants said Thursday that among those killed in the bombing was spokesman for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known by his war name Abu Khaled al-Shami. It was not possible to officially confirm whether he was among the 11 killed.

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