BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 17 people were killed and more than 40 injured on Saturday after Syrian army air strikes struck four cities in the country's northwestern region of Idlib, witnesses and a local civil defence centre said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recapture Idlib, the last rebel-held swathe of territory in the country. The strikes came the day before a ceasefire was due to come into force.
The witnesses said seven people were killed in the city of Idlib on Saturday, four in Al-Nayrab, and six in Binnish.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, however said that 18 civilians were killed including six children.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib province have fled attacks in recent weeks, moving towards the Turkish border as Russian jets and Syrian artillery pound towns and villages in a renewed government assault launched last month against Turkish-backed rebels fighting to oust Assad.
Turkey's defence ministry said on Friday that attacks by air and land would halt at one minute past midnight on Jan. 12 under the ceasefire, which Ankara has been seeking for several weeks.
Syrian state media carried no reports of air strikes by the Syrian army or its ally Russia in those areas on Saturday but said that the Syrian army had "eliminated a number of terrorists during intense gunfire carried out against their positions" in the southeastern Idlib countryside.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Aditional Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)