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Russia denies involvement in deadly airstrikes on civilian targets

Moscow has said Russian and Syrian warplanes have not flown near the Syrian city of Aleppo for nine days. The denial comes a day after UNICEF says a school in Idlib province was hit, killing dozens including children.

Russia's defense ministry said on Thursday that neither its aerial forces nor Syrian regime warplanes have flown within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of Aleppo for more than a week. That did little to comfort civilians in rebel-held Idlib province where the United Nations says an airstrike left a school compound devastated, killing at least 22 children and six teachers and provoked a caustic exchange between diplomats at United Nations headquarters in New York.

"You don't get congratulations and credit for not committing war crimes for a day or a week," US ambassador Samantha Power said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said either Russia or Syrian jets carried out six strikes around 11:30 am (0830 UTC) Wednesday in the village of Hass, including on a school complex, killing at least 35 civilians.

"This is a tragedy. It is an outrage. And if deliberate, it is a war crime," said UNICEF director Anthony Lake.

 The UNICEF director confirmed that the school compound was "repeatedly attacked," adding that it may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago. "When will the world's revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?" he said.

Quizzed over the attack, Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "It's horrible, horrible. I hope we were not involved."

These latest attacks raise the number of civilians killed in the past seven days to 89 in Idlib province alone, the Observatory said. The province in northwest Syria is controlled by the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebel groups and jihadists including the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after breaking off ties with Al-Qaeda earlier this year.

Three-way talks in Moscow

In a related development, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has announced plans to travel to Moscow on Friday for three-way talks with his Syrian and Russian counterparts on the situation in Syria.

Iran and Russia are key financial and military supporters of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Russia is under pressure at the UN to rein in its Syrian ally and halt air raids in rebel-held east Aleppo, where 250,000 civilians have been living under siege since July.

kbd,jar/gsw, kl (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)