GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Syrian government air raids killed scores of people in northern Syria on Saturday, a day after loyalist troops suffered yet another defeat on the battlefield, according to reports by activists and monitoring groups.
At least 85 people died in the strikes, which targeted territories held by both the Islamic State and the rebel opposition, the reports said.
Airstrikes are commonplace in towns held by government opponents, but Saturday’s toll was unusually high. It came as a reminder that the government of President Bashar al-Assad still has unchecked control of the skies in Syria, even as its army loses ground.
A rebel coalition dominated by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra is celebrating the capture of the town of Ariha in the northern province of Idlib after government forces fled on Friday. The victory by the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition puts the opposition in control of an entire province for the first time.
That defeat followed the rout of government troops by the Islamic State from the historic town of Palmyra the previous week. The extremist group has not yet set about destroying the magnificent Roman remains for which the remote desert city is famous, as many fear it will.
But on Saturday it blew up another landmark for which the city is renowned – the notorious Tadmor prison, where generations of political prisoners were detained and tortured over the past four decades of Assad family rule.
The Islamic State posted photographs on the Internet showing fighters rigging the prison compound with explosives then detonating them in a giant ball of fire.
Another Islamic State-held town, al-Bab, in the province of Aleppo, was the target of the deadliest of Saturday’s airstrikes. Helicopters dropped two barrel bombs – canisters packed with explosives and nails – on an early morning farmers’ market just when farmers from the countryside were arriving with their produce and customers were gathering to buy it.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 51 people were killed in the raid, and activists put the number at over 50, with at least 20 others wounded. Almost all of them were civilians, said Barry Abdul-Latif, an activist from al-Bab who is living in Turkey.
Later in the morning another raid hit the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood in the city of Aleppo, killing 12, activists in Aleppo said. A third raid killed 14 people in the Zawiya mountain area of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory.