Nine civilians were killed and 20 others injured by the Syrian regime and Russia during overnight airstrikes in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, according to the White Helmets civil defense agency late Sunday.
The White Helmets reported that three children were among the victims of the attack on several villages in the Maarat Al Numan district in southern Idlib, including Al-Tamanah, Tell Mannas, Maar Shimmareen and al-Faqie.
Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited. Despite eight months of calm provided by the Sochi deal between Turkey and Russia in September, the regime, backed by Moscow, intensified its attacks starting April 26 under the pretext of fighting Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists holed up in Idlib. Since then, the situation has gotten even worse, taking the lives of innumerable civilians. Residential areas have been destroyed by indiscriminate attacks, while numerous educational facilities, health facilities and residential areas have collapsed or have become unusable after being targeted by bombs. While clashes are ongoing in southern towns, it is expected that people will flock to the Turkish border in case attacks move toward northern parts of Idlib.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces from throughout the war-weary country.
Increased bombardment by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally since late April has killed more than 900 civilians in Idlib.
In the same period, the violence has displaced more than 500,000 people including many already displaced from other areas, the United Nations has reported.
A renewed push by the Syrian regime and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a civilian exodus. Khan Sheikhoun was one of the towns lost early in the eight-year-old war to forces opposed to the rule of Bashar Assad. On Friday, the Syrian army said it had taken it back, along with a handful of other settlements.
Khan Sheikhoun made headlines in 2017. Nearly 100 people died when the town was bombed by regime forces with sarin poison gas. One of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks of the war, it prompted a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation.
Contradictory statements by Russia
about ongoing situation in IdlibRussian President Vladimir Putin understands the concerns of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but is equally concerned about the Syrian opposition in Idlib and thinks they need to be cleared out of the region, the Kremlin said yesterday. Erdoğan told Putin Friday that attacks by Russia-backed Bashar Assad regime in northwest Syria was causing a humanitarian crisis and threatening Turkey's national security, the Turkish Presidency said. "Putin has repeatedly said he understands the concerns of our Turkish colleagues. But at the same time, the president remains concerned about the actions of terrorist elements in Idlib who cannot be [left] simply left and must be stamped out," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Monday said the Russia-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib did not violate any agreements with Turkey, the RIA news agency reported. Syrian regime troops have encircled opposition forces and a Turkish military post in northwest Syria in an offensive to reclaim territory and towns they lost early in the war.
Assad regime kills 4 in airstrikes,
including woman and her child
In another incident, airstrikes targeted Syria's last major opposition stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib yesterday, killing at least four people, including a woman and her child, opposition activists said. The attacks came as the Assad regime forces turn their focus on another opposition-held town in Idlib, Maaret al-Numan, following gains they made last week.
The troops have been on the offensive since April 30, and have also captured all opposition-held areas in the adjoining Hama province, as well as the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. From the town, they are now pushing north.
The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said the airstrikes and artillery shelling targeted the village of in Basqala and other nearby locations. Three people died in Basqala and the fourth, a man, in another village close by, Maaret Harmeh.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a higher death toll, saying the airstrikes killed six people in Idlib, including three in the village of Basqala on the southern edge of the province. Among the three killed in Basqala were a woman and her child, it said.