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Syrian regime, allies step up Idlib offensive

The Syrian regime and its allies have intensified the air and ground campaign in Idlib province, creating a level of destruction reminiscent of the battle for Aleppo.
Smoke rises from an emergency service point after an airstrike at the rebel-held village of Maar Zita in Idlib province, Syria April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah - RC124087CB50

ALEPPO, Syria — The Syrian regime's airstrikes have hit a number of cities, towns and villages in the Idlib countryside over the past few days, causing a great deal of destruction to the local infrastructure and raising fears that the area will suffer the same fate as the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo.

A Jan. 30 air raid that targeted a market killed 15 people and wounded others in the town of Ariha. Regime helicopters dropped numerous barrel bombs on Tell Sultan, Salamin and Kanayes villages in the east, where no injuries were reported. Idlib's southeastern countryside is held by the Syrian armed opposition factions and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

The Syrian regime's shelling of Saraqeb killed five people and wounded others on Feb. 1. Idlib Media Center reported that members of the Civil Defense corps were wounded while treating the wounded. According to opposition activists, Russian aircraft hit the village of Jarjnaz in Idlib’s southern countryside Feb. 1 with bombs carrying napalm, but no casualties were reported.

On Jan. 29, the regime’s warplanes targeted the potato market in Saraqeb, in the Idlib eastern countryside, killing 14 people and wounding others. Five people — including a woman and four children — were killed in Maasaran village, east of Idlib, in the regime’s air raids on residential areas. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 175 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed in 35 days of intensified regime actions in the area beginning Dec. 25, 2017.

The air raids come alongside the ongoing battles between the regime and armed opposition forces in Idlib countryside. The regime forces are advancing, taking over numerous towns and villages in Idlib's southeastern countryside and gaining control of the Abu al-Zohour military airport Jan. 21.

The airstrikes on Saraqeb have prompted the town’s local council to plead for help on social media Jan. 28. The council urged international and UN institutions to put a halt to the brutal raids that have targeted the city’s unarmed population and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Laith Faris, a volunteer for the Civil Defense corps in Saraqeb, told Al-Monitor that “125 airstrikes hit the town in four days," explaining, "Different sorts of bombs, thermobaric weapon, S-5 and S-8 rockets, cluster munitions and rockets containing napalm were used. There is a high rate of civilian casualties and a great deal of damage was caused to the town’s infrastructure.”

“Owdai Hospital is the only hospital in the town and closed due to an airstrike. The blood bank and paramedic service are also inoperative after they were hit by warplanes. The town’s laboratory suffered great damage, in addition to the western water treatment plant and the interim government’s mill. Two mosques were also bombarded,” he added.

In a Jan. 29 statement, Doctors Without Borders condemned the airstrikes on medical facilities in northern Syria. According to the statement, two airstrikes by the Syrian regime forces hit Owdai Hospital in Saraqeb while patients were being treated there, forcing the hospital to close.

Luis Montiel, the organization's mission chief in northern Syria, wrote, “This latest incident demonstrates the brutality with which healthcare is coming under attack in Syria. The fact that this attack occurred on a facility while it was treating incoming patients is particularly egregious and a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

Ahmad Sheikho, director of the Civil Defense corps media office in Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “Since Dec. 17, civilians in Idlib's southeastern countryside have been subjected to a fierce offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies. They were targeted by hundreds of airstrikes in which various types of bombs were used. The offensive has killed 312 civilians, including 94 children and 69 women, and wounded 667 people, including 200 women and 172 children. The airstrikes shut down six hospitals. … They hit seven of the Civil Defense corps centers in Saraqeb, Khan Sheikhoun, Bidama and Ariha, as well and other towns and villages. The warplanes targeted four popular markets resulting in massacres, as in Ariha and Saraqeb, in addition to 13 mosques, a number of schools, silos and mills.”

He went on, “Unbelievably, the offensive is getting more intensive leading to further deaths and wounded. More than 100 raids targeted Saraqeb alone in the past two days, killing about 30 people and wounding more than 50. 300,000 people were displaced from Idlib's southeastern countryside in the biggest wave of displacement in Idlib governorate. The warplanes also target 11 temporary refugee camps in the suburbs of Saraqeb.”

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