Russian warplanes pounded a prison complex run by al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra in the town of Maarat al-Numaan today, killing at least 57 people and wounding 30 others. The bloodshed came as United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura met in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to prepare for peace talks between the government and the opposition.
The Observatory said that 29 militants and seven detainees were also killed in the attack, which targeted a prison and courthouse ran by the Nusra Front militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, adding that the death toll “is likely to rise”. Among the dead were five civilians, including a child. Al-Nusra is one of the most powerful jihadist groups operating in war-torn Syria, saying it seeks to establish an Islamic state in Syrian territory.
The monitoring group said most of those killed were rebels imprisoned by Al-Nusra, while other victims included prison guards and Al-Nusra fighters.
The Army of Conquest coalition has expelled regime forces from Idlib province. But the Red Cross said the much-needed supplies can not be delivered before Monday due to logistical problems. Aid agencies have warned of widespread starvation in Madaya, where some 40,000 people are at risk. Conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria.
Damascus views all the groups fighting to topple Assad as terrorists, including rebels who support a political solution and are represented in a recently formed opposition council tasked with overseeing the negotiations
Syrian rebels and opposition politicians have expressed doubts over whether the peace talks will begin as planned.
De Mistura arrived in Beirut later Saturday and boarded a plane heading to Qatar, airport officials said in Beirut on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.