BEIRUT - An air strike hit near a school in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib Wednesday, killing at least 16 children, a monitoring organisation said.

"Twenty civilians, including 16 children, were killed in an air strike in Kafr Batikh in Idlib province," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organisation, said the strike hit near a checkpoint held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group that consists largely of ex-members of a former Al-Qaeda affiliate. Abdel Rahman said the strike hit children coming out of a nearby school. "The oldest among them is 11," he said.

62 regime fighters dead in IS attack

A lightning assault by the Islamic State group that put the militants in control of a southern part of the Syrian capital killed 62 regime fighters, a monitor said Wednesday in a new toll.

IS launched the surprise attack on Monday night to seize the Qadam neighbourhood of Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor gave an initial toll on Tuesday of 36 pro-government fighters dead, but said that loyalists had retrieved additional bodies since. "The toll has risen to 62, most of them local pro-regime fighters," said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitor which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.

"Regime reinforcements have gathered on the outskirts of Qadam, but the operation to recapture it has not yet started," said monitor chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

IS have maintained a presence in parts of Damascus, including in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and the neighbourhoods of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun.

It launched its Monday night attack from Hajar al-Aswad, taking advantage of a temporary power vacuum in Qadam after Islamist and militant fighters evacuated the area under a deal with the regime.

That agreement saw most of them head to the northwestern province of Idlib, which is controlled by a group led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Al-Watan, a Syrian daily close to the government, also reported Wednesday that regime forces had sent reinforcements to Qadam, but said IS had only taken "a few buildings in the district's east".