BEIRUT — A Syrian government airstrike on a town in the country’s northwest killed at least 20 people Saturday, shattering storefronts, setting cars ablaze and sending a giant plume of black and gray smoke into the sky.
President Bashar al-Assad’s air force has been one of his biggest assets in the two-year-old civil war, and he has used warplanes and helicopters to try to check rebel advances, although the regime also frequently hits civilian areas.
A Human Rights Watch report this week accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes by using indiscriminate and sometimes deliberate airstrikes against civilians, killing at least 4,300 people since the summer of 2012.
Saturday’s air raid struck the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said three children were among the 20 people killed in the attack.
Amateur videos posted online showed a giant plume of black smoke and people in cars and on motorbikes racing to help the wounded. A group of men could be seen carrying a wounded man covered with gray dust. Another man in the video rushes with a bucket of water to help extinguish cars in flames. Rubble and twisted metal litter the street.
Rebels have wrested much of the countryside of Idlib and other provinces in northern Syria from regime forces, although government troops still control many military bases in the region from which they launch attacks, including airstrikes, on opposition-held areas.
South of Saraqeb, Syrian government troops trying to relieve a besieged military base ambushed a rebel checkpoint, killing at least 21 opposition fighters.
The Observatory said the government forces surprised the rebel fighters on the outskirts of the village of Baboulein. The Observatory, which relies on a network of local activists on the ground, said many opposition fighters were also wounded in the attack.