The death toll has been increasing in Idlib as a result of relentless airstrikes by the Russians and the Bashar Assad regime in civilian areas, prompting strong reactions from the international community.
After the air raids on a crowded market in a residential area in Maarat al-Numan district in Idlib province took the lives of at least 50 civilians and left many wounded on Monday, the attacks by the Russians and the Syrian regime against the opposition-held Idlib continued yesterday. At least two more civilians were killed and half a dozen more were injured in strikes that occurred in the districts of Kefer Zita, Marratinnuman and Khan Sheikhoun by shelling and air raids launched by the Assad regime and its supporters yesterday.
"We strongly condemn yesterday's attack on civilians in Idlib. We call on Russia and Assad to stop exacerbating this humanitarian disaster, to abide by a cease-fire, and to return to the political process immediately," said U.S. spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. Even though the Russian Defense Ministry denied the attack claiming that Russian warplanes had not carried out any missions in the area, the international community including the U.S. and Turkey blame Moscow and Damascus for the ceaseless attacks. The warplanes target mainly civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure to force the last opposition stronghold against the Bashar Assad regime to surrender.
Since the Syrian regime military launched its Idlib offensive in late April, more than 600 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Despite the Astana meeting between Turkey, Russia and Iran in May 2017 enunciating Idlib as a de-escalation zone, the regime consistently breaks the terms by acts of aggression. The regime and its backers have been seeking to capture main highways across Syria to leave the opposition forces with just a few isolated pockets of territory across the country.
"The Syrian Civil Defense mourns the fall of a hero Anas Al-dyab, a volunteer and media activist with the Syrian Civil Defense Center in Idlib. Anas was hit with three Russian airstrikes while documenting the aerial bombardment on his city of Khan Shaikhoun this morning," stated the White Helmets rescue group on Sunday expressing their grief. The White Helmet volunteer was also an Anadolu Agency freelance journalist.
"Attacks by Russia and the Assad regime also continue to kill and maim humanitarian workers such as ambulance drivers, health workers, and White Helmets volunteers," added Ortagus.
Currently, the de-escalation zone is inhabited by about 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Syrian regime forces from their cities and towns over the course of Syria's more than eight-year-long humanitarian disaster. Being the last opposition enclave, Idlib's prewar population of 1.5 million has swelled to around 3 million with new refugee waves after it was designated a de-escalation zone under the Astana agreement. Tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in other parts of the country were evacuated there under various cease-fire agreements.
could be announced soon
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed yesterday that the establishment of the Constitutional Committee for Syria as part of the Astana process could be announced in the following days. The committee has become one of the main issues of U.N. peace efforts in Syria and aims to set up elections that could promise a better future and find a permanent political solution after years of devastating war. "There has been disagreement on six persons on the civil society list. We, along with U.N., said that those do not represent civil society. Details are being discussed, and we can declare an establishment of the Constitutional Committee in the upcoming days," Çavuşoğlu said after a press conference with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres.
The committee will consist of 150 members – a 50-member delegation from the regime and a 50-member delegation from the opposition. There will also be 50 members of the committee representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women.
Çavuşoğlu also said during the conference that he asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to put an end to the regime attacks in Idlib. He also stressed that the attacks directly target civilians and that claims on the presence of radicals in the region are not true.
Following eight months of relative calm provided by the Sochi deal reached between Ankara and Moscow in September 2018, the regime intensified its attacks starting April 26, under the pretext of fighting Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants holed up in Idlib.