DAMASCUS, Aug 13 – At least 67 people were killed and 33 injured by an explosion at an arms depot in rebel-held northern Syria on Sunday, rescuers and activists say.
The blast in the village of Sarmada, in Idlib province, caused the collapse of two five-storey buildings.
More than 50 of the dead were civilians. The others were members of a jihadist alliance linked to al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
The depot is reported to have been run by an arms dealer who works with HTS.
The alliance is the dominant armed opposition force in Idlib, which is home to some 2.9 million people, including a million who have fled other rebel-held parts of Syria.
The Syria Civil Defence, whose volunteer first responders are commonly known as the White Helmets, said on Monday morning that it had completed its search and rescue operation in Sarmada’s Bab al-Hawa Square after 22 hours.
The bodies of 67 people had been recovered from beneath the rubble of the collapsed buildings, while 17 people had been pulled out alive, it added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, put the death toll at 69 and said it included 17 children and 14 women.
Most of the civilians were displaced people from the central province of Homs.
The cause of the initial blast is not yet known.
However, HTS’s news outlet Iba cited one of the alliance’s security officials as criticising the arms dealer for storing powerful explosives in a residential area.
Abu Abdul Malik said it showed “a total and clear disregard for the lives of people” and vowed to take action to regulate the activities of arms dealers.