Syria's main transport artery, the M5 highway, links Damascus with Aleppo. Image: iStock

Russian air strikes killed 10 civilians in the jihadist-held northwestern province of Idlib on Friday, a UK-based conflict monitor said, as unsuccessful peace talks concluded in Kazakhstan.

The raids killed three civilians, including a boy, on the outskirts of the town of Kafranbel, and seven, including a girl, in the town of Tal Hawash, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011, and endless rounds of negotiations have failed to stem the bloodshed.

The Damascus regime has won back large parts of the country from rebels and jihadists since its ally Russia intervened in the war in 2015.

But several key areas remain beyond government reach, including Idlib, which is controlled by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Russia and rebel-backer Turkey in September inked a buffer zone deal to prevent a massive regime offensive on Idlib and nearby regions, close to the Turkish border.

However, the area, currently home to some three million people, has come under increasing bombardment since jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) took full control of it in January.

The latest air strikes came as two days of talks on ending the  Syrian conflict – sponsored by Russia, fellow regime ally Iran, and rebel backer Turkey – ended in Kazakhstan.

In a statement released after the meeting, the three countries expressed concern about HTS extending its influence in Idlib.

They stressed their “determination to continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate” HTS and ISIS, the statement said.

US-backed forces expelled ISIS from the last stronghold of their 2014 “caliphate” last month, but the jihadists still have a presence in the Syrian desert and sleeper cells elsewhere.

– with reporting by AFP

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