LONDON/IdLIB - Syrian refugee children have been working in factories in Turkey making clothes for British high street retailer Marks & Spencer and online store ASOS, an investigation by BBC Panorama found.

The investigation, to be broadcast Monday evening, found Syrian refugees as young as 15 working long hours for little pay, making and ironing clothes to be shipped off to Britain.

BBC journalists took photographs of Marks & Spencer labels in the factories. Some Syrian refugees worked 12-hour days in a factory distressing jeans for fashion brands Mango and Zara, using chemicals with inadequate protection, the BBC said. An M&S spokesperson said: “We had previously found no evidence of Syrian workers employed in factories that supply us, so we were very disappointed by these findings, which are extremely serious and are unacceptable to M&S.” An ASOS spokeswoman said: “It’s a subject we take incredibly seriously. But it would be wrong for us to comment on reporting we haven’t seen.”

Meanwhile, sixteen civilians, including three children, were killed on Monday in heavy bombardment across rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria, a monitoring group said.

In Khan Sheikhun, a town in the province’s south, air strikes killed seven people, including two women and a child, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based Observatory said the raids were carried out by either Syrian or Russian aircraft.

Another seven people, including four women and two children, were killed in raids on Kafr Takharim, further north in the province.

Those raids hit three residential buildings, a local government building, and a stadium, shortly after midnight, AFP’s correspondent in the town said.

In the morning, rescue workers were still trying to pull bodies out of the rubble.

“My sister’s house was standing right here. She and her daughter are dead, along with another family,” Abu Mohammad told AFP.

“There was no military base here. All the military positions are outside the town,” the devastated man said.

Another man and a woman were killed in rocket fire in the nearby town of Kafr Awid.

Idlib province is controlled by the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebel groups and jihadists including the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after breaking off ties with Al-Qaeda.

According to the Observatory, heavy bombardment has battered the northwest province in recent days.

Since Thursday, bombardment has killed 44 civilians, including 11 women, nine children, and one rescue worker.

Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but it has since evolved into all-out war pitting rebels, government forces, Kurds and jihadists against each other.

 

Meanwhile, Russia, blaming failures by the US-led coalition and meagre hopes for diplomacy, on Monday ruled out early moves to renew its ceasefire in Aleppo after a brief truce ended at the weekend.

“The question of renewing the humanitarian pause is not relevant now,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency, in Moscow’s first official comment on why it did not extend the ceasefire further.

Heavy fighting resumed in the devasted Syrian city on Saturday after Russia, a government ally, ended its three-day cessation of hostilities.

In order to renew the pause, “our opponents must ensure appropriate behaviour by the anti-government groups that in particular sabotaged the medical evacuation that was intended during the humanitarian pause,” Ryabkov said.

He chastised the US-led coalition, saying that it was criticising Damascus and Moscow instead of “really exerting influence on the opposition, the rebels.”

“Over the last three days, what was needed did not happen,” he said.

Ryabkov also said that he did not see the “conditions” for ministerial-level negotiations on Syria before the US elections on November 8, after a Lausanne meeting on October 15 that ended with no breakthrough.

“It’s almost no time until the US elections. To be honest, I don’t see the conditions for a ministerial meeting,” he said, insisting that Damascus and Moscow were fulfilling international agreements.

The Kremlin had hailed the humanitarian ceasefire as a “manifestation of goodwill” as it faced mounting criticism over its bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo in support of a brutal regime offensive on the city.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday questioned the viability of humanitarian pauses under current conditions in comments to journalists.

So far the US-led coalition has not managed to separate moderate rebels from hardline “terrorist” groups, he said, and attacks continued “all these days” on checkpoints for exiting the city and the main routes for supplies of humanitarian aid.

“All this is far from helpful, either for the pauses or the process of supplying humanitarian aid,” Peskov said.

The Kremlin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier expressed concern at the small numbers of civilians and fighters leaving the city, with only a handful reported to have crossed through a single passage.

Lavrov on Friday accused fighters from the Fateh al-Sham Front and influential Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group of obstructing the departure of civilians and combatants prepared to leave, saying they used “threats, blackmail and brute force.”