Monitor: Government shelling in north Syria kills at least 8

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government shelling of a rebel-held area in the country’s northwest Friday killed at least eight people in the latest and deadliest violation of a truce in the area reached two months ago, a Syria war monitor and an opposition paramedic group said.

The artillery shelling marked another violation of a truce reached between Russia and Turkey in September that avoided a major government offensive on the rebel-held province of Idlib.

Last Friday, seven people were killed when government forces shelled parts of Idlib, according to opposition activists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said eight people were killed, including five civilians, in the shelling near the village of Jarjanaz in Idlib.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said artillery shells left 10 people dead and others wounded.

The Sept. 17 agreement to set up a demilitarized zone 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep and stretching along the front lines around Idlib, including parts of the provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, aimed to avert a government offensive on the area.

It also called on jihadi fighters to evacuate the demilitarized zone, but activists say many of them did not pull out.

Idlib has recently witnessed internal fighting between al-Qaida-linked militants and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

In the northern city of Raqqa, which was held by the Islamic State group until October last year, gunmen shot dead tribal leader Bashir Faysal Hweidi in his car, according to the Observatory and the activist collective Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack accusing Hweidi in a statement of cooperating with the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led group that captured the city from the extremists last year. Hweidi was a senior leader of the Afadla tribe, one of the largest in Raqqa province.

IS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks in areas they once controlled in Syria and Iraq.

In neighboring Lebanon, the General Security Directorate that oversees foreigners in the country said in a statement that 87,670 Syrian refugees have returned home since July when the governments of Lebanon and Syria began facilitating the return of refugees.

Lebanon is home to more than a million Syrian refugees, or about a quarter of the country’s population, putting a huge strain on the economy.

Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011 has killed some 400,000 people and some five million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Millions others are internationally displaced.

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