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Syrian regime army hits civilian sites in relentless Idlib campaign

Local | 2020-02-26 22:29:59
Syrian regime army hits civilian sites in relentless Idlib campaign
Syrian regime forces bombed civilian targets in the northwestern Idlib province Wednesday, pushing ahead with a fierce military campaign that has sent nearly a million people fleeing from their homes and killed hundreds over the past three months.

Backed by Russian air power, Bashar Assad's forces have over the past few days captured dozens of villages, including major rebel strongholds in the last opposition-held area.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the situation is increasingly dire following a spike in hostilities there in the last 48 hours.

Nine civilians, including women and children, were killed Wednesday, according to Zaman al-Wasl reporter.

Airstrikes were reported the previous day in 19 communities and shelling in 10 villages in Idlib and Hama, with at least 21 civilians, including five women and nine children, reportedly killed by airstrikes as well as ground-based attacks, he said.

The airstrikes also hit and damaged educational and medical facilities including Idlib Central Hospital and several facilities that were serving as a shelter for displaced people, Dujarric said.

He added that the U.N. is trying to expand cross-border aid deliveries to accommodate up to 100 trucks per day, but that needs on the ground "continue to outstrip the humanitarian community’s capacity to respond."

More than 300 civilians have been killed since the beginning of December, when regime troops launched a new military campaign to recapture Idlib, which is the last significant opposition-controlled region in the country. According to the U.N., 948,000 people have been displaced - an exodus of people fleeing their homes toward safer areas near the border with Turkey.

The fighting has triggered a humanitarian disaster, overwhelming already crowded refugee camps amid shortages in food and medicine. As in previous campaigns to recapture opposition-held areas, regime troops bombed hospitals, medical centers, schools and other civilian infrastructure in a bid to subdue the local population, opposition activists and aid organizations said.

The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief group operating in the country's northwest, said that regime forces struck numerous civilian targets in the past 24 hours, including eight schools, three medical centers, and several settlements where people displaced by the fighting had taken shelter.

The group's statement condemned the "silence by the international community" calling it an "open invitation" for Russian-backed government forces to continue their assault.

A doctor in Idlib who identified himself as Ihsan Eidi said that medical conditions were rapidly deteriorating in Idlib, adding that more than 50 hospitals and health centers have gone out of service over the past nine months.

"We had little equipment and most of it was damaged by the bombs, unfortunately," he said in the video released by a charity organization known as Islamic Relief Worldwide. He added that with the flow of displaced people in the cold weather, tent settlements have become overcrowded, which makes disease spread more easily.

The violence came as a Russian delegation was scheduled to arrive in Turkey Wednesday to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in the northwestern Idlib region.

Turkey and Russia back rival groups in the Syrian conflict and over the past weeks Ankara sent thousands of Turkish troops to Idlib. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops so far this month have left 16 Turkish soldiers dead.

President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey plans to push regime forces away from its military observation posts in Idlib region this week, despite continued advances by the Russian-backed military.

Syrian opposition activists said regime forces shelled a Turkish military convoy on a road near the northwestern village of Bara on Wednesday.

Ten Turkish soldiers were wounded in the attack, Zaman al-Wasl reporter said.

On Tuesday, Syrian troops shot down a Turkish drone over Idlib, saying it was carrying out a reconnaissance mission over a town recently captured by regime forces.

A Syrian regime army statement said government forces captured, in addition to dozens of villages, some strategic hills deep inside the heavily fortified areas once held by rebels. It said the villages captured include former strongholds such as Kafranbel, Has, Kfar Sajneh and al-Dar al-Kabira.

The capture of Kafranbel was another blow to rebels after regime gains over the past three months. Kafranbel was a major opposition-held town that gained attention in the early years of the Syrian conflict because of weekly anti-government protests that included humorous English-language banners carried by protesters.
The banners were initiated by anti-government journalist Raed Fares who was shot dead in the town along with his friend Hammoud al-Juneid in November 2018. Fares was a harsh critic of Islamic militants who control much of Idlib.

The regime controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Kafranbel was captured late Tuesday after fierce fighting with al-Qaida-linked militants. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the town was taken by the government after punishing bombardment from the air and ground.

Zaman Al Wasl with Agencies
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