BEIRUT - Russian strikes Saturday on a prison complex run by Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate killed at least 57 people and wounded 30 others, many critically, a monitor said, giving a revised toll.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air raids on an Al-Nusra Front building prison near a popular market in northwestern Idlib province killed 21 civilians, 29 militants and seven detainees.
The building in Maarat al-Numan housed the group’s religious court and a jail. The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a large network of sources inside Syria, said a child and two women were among the civilians killed in the strikes.
A statement said that among the militants killed were 23 Nusra fighters. “The toll from the Russian raids on the Al-Qaeda-run prison has risen to at least 57 killed and 30 wounded, many in critical condition,” said the Observatory which had earlier given a toll of 39 dead. Russian warplanes have been conducting air strikes against the Islamic State organisation and “other terrorist groups” in Syria since September 30.
Although Al-Nusra and IS are both jihadist organisations, they are fierce rivals and regularly clash in Syria. Al-Nusra also has tense relationships with non-jihadist rebel groups that oppose its extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
In Idlib, it has formed an alliance with rebel groups, including hardline faction Ahrar al-Sham.
The Army of Conquest coalition has expelled regime forces from Idlib province.
Syria’s conflict first erupted with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011 but expanded into a war that has left more than 260,000 people dead.
On diplomatic front, Syria’s foreign minister said Saturday his government was still waiting to receive the names of opposition figures due to attend peace talks in Geneva this month, state news agency SANA reported.
After meeting with UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus, Walid Muallem confirmed that his government would take part in negotiations beginning January 25.
The talks are part of an ambitious 18-month plan endorsed by the UN Security Council to end Syria’s nearly five-year war.
But Muallem said it was “necessary” for his government to see the names of opposition groups attending, as well as a list prepared by Jordan of armed factions that would be considered “terrorist organisations.”
Syrian government figures have requested these lists in the past as apparent preconditions for talks.
The embattled regime refers to all its opponents as “terrorists”.
“The efforts to find a political solution and the recent decisions of the UN Security Council in this regard are linked with the credibility of counter-terrorism efforts,” Muallem said according to SANA.
De Mistura’s office said the envoy had a “useful” meeting with Muallem and discussed ongoing preparations for talks.
De Mistura’s trip to Damascus is part of a string of regional visits in the buildup to the talks. The envoy was in Riyadh earlier this week and will head next to Tehran.
Muallem pledged that Syria would “continue cooperating with the special envoy... to fight terrorism and move forward with dialogue among Syrians”.
On Friday, more than 20 rebel groups published a statement denouncing the international community for pressuring the opposition to “make concessions” in the peace process, accusing world powers of being “complicit” in the suffering of Syrians.
More than 260,000 people have died since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011, and previous efforts to find a political solution to the war have failed.