Syrian shelling of rebel-held areas close to Turkey kills 4

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government shelling of a rebel-held town near the border with Turkey on Saturday killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, Syrian opposition activists said.

The shelling of the town of Sarmada comes amid increasing tensions in the last rebel stronghold in the Syrian northwest, where a truce reached in March last year has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, said three of the dead were local policemen whose station received a direct hit. It said 17 people were also wounded.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said the shelling was concentrated on Sarmada and a road linking it with the border crossing point of Bab al-Hawa with Turkey. The Civil Defense also said four persons were killed but gave a higher number of wounded, 23.

A truce negotiated between Turkey, which supports Syria’s opposition, and Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer, ended a crushing Russian-backed government offensive on northwestern Syria in March last year.

In other developments, a roadside bomb hit a Turkish military convoy on Friday night, killing two soldiers and wounding five on the road leading to Bab al-Hawa, according to Turkish media and the Observatory.

The Observatory said the attack was claimed by a group known as Supporters of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Company, a militant group that has claimed previous attacks on Turkish forces.

The region, consisting of parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, is home to about 4 million people, many of them displaced by Syria’s 10-year conflict. The conflict that began in March 2011 killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including more than 5 million refugees who are now outside the war-torn nation.

Separately, Syria’s government said Israeli troops on Saturday killed a former lawmaker who hailed from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A government statement said Midhat Saleh was in the village of Ein el-Tinneh, on the edge of the Golan, when he was fatally shot. Saleh ran the Syrian government’s office there.

Israeli officials declined comment.

Saleh was born in the Israeli-occupied village of Majdal Shams and was jailed several times by Israeli authorities, the last time for 12 years until 1997. He later moved to Syria and was elected to parliament in 1998.

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