The Syrian regime launched military airstrikes on the northwestern Idlib province Monday, effectively ending the cease-fire. The regime accused opposition groups of targeting an airbase of its ally, Russia, and scrapped the cease-fire in the region.
"Regime warplanes launched their first airstrikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib's southern countryside" since late Thursday, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
This move was not surprising since it was already reported by the White Helmets civil defense group on Sunday that at least one civilian was killed and five were wounded in Idlib despite the announcement of a cease-fire.
The Syrian regime struck the Khan Shaykhun district in Idlib's de-escalation zone, Kafr Zita in northern rural Hama, and nearby districts with mortars and cannons.
A civilian woman was killed in Bidama in rural western Idlib, and five others were killed following the attack.
Yet, there was still a little light of hope as opposition groups in Idlib announced that they would not engage in any clashes as long as the Syrian regime did not attack.
Idlib's National Liberation Front released a written statement about the conditional truce and announced that they would not engage in any clash except for self-defense.
"Keeping our fingers on the trigger, we give a rest to the weapons we use to defend ourselves, and we provide an opportunity for our soldiers for medical treatment, and their families for sheltering and preparation for a new threat in the future," the statement added.
Last Thursday night, Damascus declared a cease-fire in Idlib's de-escalation zone when Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three guarantors of the Astana peace process, met in the 13th meeting held in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, for technical talks before the trilateral Astana meeting, which will be held in Istanbul this month.
The first meeting of the Astana process was held in Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. The Astana talks support the establishment of the U.N.-backed constitutional committee in Syria as a part to find a political solution.
Last year, the Sochi agreement was reached on Sept. 17 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. According to the agreement, the cease-fire in the Idlib region will be preserved, with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region.
However, even though the region of Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone, the attacks of the Syrian regime and Russia continued unceasingly on the last opposition-stronghold leading to deaths as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Astana guarantor countries will meet for the fifth summit on Sept. 11 in Ankara. The main topics on the agenda are the developments in Idlib, the "Peace Corridor" to be established along the Turkey-Syria border and Syria's political transition process. Besides, significant matters as the cooperation against terrorism, humanitarian aid and the works in progress for a constitutional committee in Syria will also be discussed.
Idlib and parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia are under the control of the armed group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaida affiliate, which the Syrian regime has vowed to destroy. This is often used as a pretext to attack the de-escalation zone.
Since the Sochi agreement was inked last year, nearly 750,000 civilians were displaced during violations of the cease-fire. Furthermore, the Syrian Network for Human Rights announced that as a result of the attacks on the de-escalation zone by Russia and Assad regime since the end of April, 781 civilians lost their lives including 208 children and 140 women.
Besides the constant civilian deaths, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, markets and schools have also been destroyed, leaving the nearly 4 million people living in Idlib in desperate situations. Last week, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) even warned that this could lead to a disease outbreak.