Beirut (AFP)

Russian-backed Syrian regime forces on Thursday conquered new areas in Idleb province, continuing an offensive against jihadists and rebels in the north-west, and carrying out deadly raids killing 9 civilians, according to an NGO.

During regime strikes on two villages in Idleb, seven civilians including two children were killed in regime strikes, while the day before, regime raids killed at least 12 civilians, including six children, in the town of Maaret al-Noomane, in the south of the province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).

On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, White Helmets rescuers continued to activate, with the help of diggers, to clear the rubble and seek the survivors under the rubble, according to photographers working with AFP on the spot.

White of dust or covered with blood, victims of a very young age were evacuated by ambulance by the civil defense. In the basement of a hospital, a kneeling man was crying in front of the lifeless bodies of four children with swollen faces: his three children and his nephew, who seemed barely five years old.

Located on a strategic highway connecting the capital Damascus to the southern city of Aleppo, Maaret al-Noomane seems to be the next goal of the power of Bashar al-Assad.

On this vital artery, the regime has already reconquered the city of Khan Cheikhoun, in southern Idleb.

"The regime's forces are seeking to extend their control in the Khan Cheikhoun area and continue their advance further north towards Maaret al-Noomane," OSDH director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP on Thursday. .

They captured two localities, including Al-Tamaanah, and three villages east of Khan Sheikhoun, said Abdel Rahman.

The regime began a ground advance on August 8 in northwestern Syria, where Idleb Province and adjacent areas are dominated by jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly Syrian branch of Qaeda).

Since the end of April, the bombings of Damascus and the Russian ally have killed more than 950 civilians in the Idleb region, according to the OSDH. And more than 400,000 people have been displaced, according to the UN.

The entire sector is supposed to be protected by an agreement on a "demilitarized zone", unveiled in September 2018 by Turkey and Russia to separate government areas from territories in the hands of jihadists and insurgents, but this agreement does not did not prevent the regime's offensive.

Triggered in 2011 by the repression by power of pro-democracy protests, the war in Syria claimed more than 370,000 lives.

© 2019 AFP