GENEVA/BEIRUT • Air strikes by the Syrian government and its allies on schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries have killed at least 103 civilians in the past 10 days, including 26 children, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement yesterday.
"These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident," Ms Bachelet said, adding that the rising toll had been met with "apparent international indifference".
More than 400,000 people have been displaced in north-western Syria over the past three months, Ms Bachelet said, as the government presses an intensified bombardment of the opposition-held region.
The region under attack is home to some three million people, nearly half of them already displaced from other parts of the country. It covers nearly all of Idlib and parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
"Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions," Ms Bachelet said.
The government began its offensive against the rebel enclave, the last area of active insurgent opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, at the end of April, saying it was responding to violations of a truce.
The spike in violence has killed more than 740 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aid groups have described the latest bloody episode of Syria's eight-year civil war as a "nightmare".
The Britain-based Observatory said one civilian was killed and several others were wounded at a market in the Idlib province town of Saraqib yesterday, days after a similar attack killed more than seven. Another 50 civilians were killed in strikes on Wednesday alone - the majority in a busy market, the monitor said.
Most of the displacement is from southern Idlib and northern Hama, the two areas that have been hit hardest by the flare-up, the United Nations' humanitarian coordination office (Ocha) said.
"The majority of those fleeing have displaced within Idlib governorate while a smaller number have moved into northern Aleppo governorate. Roughly two-thirds of people displaced are staying outside camps," it said.
Approximately 100 schools in Idlib are now hosting displaced people, Ocha said.
Many are forced to live in the open air because of overcrowding in camps and reception centres, it added.
The Idlib region is controlled by Islamist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate.
A September accord struck between Russia and Turkey was supposed to spare the region the bloodshed of a government assault, but it was never fully implemented as Islamists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone.
Instead, pro-government forces have since increased the intensity of their bombardment in recent weeks.
Ocha said that since the end of April, it has documented 39 attacks against health facilities or medical workers in the region. At least 50 schools have been damaged by the air strikes and shelling, it added.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE