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Syrian, Russian Warplanes Pound Rebel Targets; Scores Killed, Wounded


This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows Civil Defense workers putting out a fire in a house following airstrikes hit Maarat al-Nuaman town, in Idlib province, Syria, March 25, 2017.

Warplanes of the Syrian government and its Russian allies pounded rebel targets across the country Saturday, killing scores of people, including inmates at a rebel-held women's prison in the northwestern city of Idlib.

Details of the overnight prison strike remained sketchy Saturday. But monitors from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the prison dead included 16 prisoners and prison staff. The Observatory said some of the detainees had been killed by prison guards as they attempted to flee after the airstrikes.

Separately, monitors said government forces targeted rebel positions east of Damascus, where at least 16 people were killed and 50 others wounded in Hamoria.

The government offensive, described as some of the heaviest fighting in weeks, came days after rebels seeking to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad launched a surprise assault on Damascus by burrowing into the capital through tunnels.

Concurrent attacks in recent days to the north targeted Hama province, where insurgents have seized about a dozen towns and villages since Monday. The Observatory said rebels had advanced by Wednesday to within several kilometers of a government airbase outside the city.

But monitors reported Saturday that heavy government rocket fire had forced rebels to withdraw from some of their forward positions.

In a related development, authorities said the second phase of an evacuation of Syrian rebels from Homs province had been delayed by fighting to the north that erupted early this week in Hama province between government and rebel forces.

The evacuation, which began earlier this month, is part of a deal to relocate rebels to northwestern Syria, along with their families and other civilians who choose to leave. Monitors have said as many as 15,000 people were expected to depart in weekly batches.

Homs city officials, in an email to Reuters on Saturday, quoted provincial Governor Talal Barazi as saying the evacuation would continue Monday.