ALEPPO, Syria — Syrian government forces and Russia have recently renewed their ground and airstrikes on Idlib province in northwestern Syria.
On Sept. 30, Russian warplanes targeted the outskirts of al-Ruweiha and Mseibin in the south of Idlib, as the Syrian government forces fired artillery shells at several villages in Jabal al-Zawiya area in southern Idlib, and more than 50 shells at a number of towns and villages in Al-Ghab Plain in northwest Hama.
The Syrian Civil Defense, aka the White Helmets, reported cases of fainting due to fear and panic among the displaced, while students evacuated their schools in the camp because of the nearby bombing in the Kalbit area.
Fatima Saeed, mother of four who lives in one of the Kalbit displacement camps, told Al-Monitor, “I panicked when I heard the Russian strikes because two of my children were just leaving school. I ran out of my tent to look for them. I was dead worried they would be hit by the bombs.”
She added, “The area that was hit is overcrowded."
A journalist close to the Syrian government forces who resides in Aleppo told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The Russian forces had obtained Sept. 27 intelligence from agents affiliated with the Syrian intelligence apparatus in Idlib about the presence of senior commanders of Jaish al-Izza [Army of Glory] in a camp near the Bab al-Hawa crossing. Thus, they jumped at the opportunity to target them.”
On Sept. 28, the Russian Sputnik news agency reported that the bombing in the Kalbit area targeted a position of the Jaish al-Izza faction affiliated with the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), and that “the bombing resulted in the killing and wounding of around 35 militants.”
Mustafa Bakur, an Idlib-based commander in Jaish al-Izza, told Al-Monitor, “The site targeted by the Russian planes serves as a military training camp for Jaish al-Izza fighters.”
Bakur denied that the Russian airstrikes led to casualties and major losses.
Shortly after the strikes, Jaish al-Izza officers published pictures of them with their commander, Jamil al-Saleh, whom Russia had claimed was killed in the airstrikes in the Kalbit area.
An FSA commander told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Saleh — among other officers — survived the Russian airstrikes because they had left the site shortly before the attack.”
The commander said, “Jaish al-Izza had prior knowledge of the Russian strikes, as they were informed by spies from the government forces. The faction was holding a training course for dozens of fighters inside the targeted camp before it was evacuated minutes prior to the Russian attack.”
He added, “Jaish al-Izza completely evacuated its camp after the strike Sept. 29 due to discontent among the displaced, who believe the location of the training camp posed a major threat to them.”
The battlefronts between the government forces and the opposition factions in Idlib are witnessing reprisal operations, as each side tries to carry out qualitative military attacks based on the information collected by their ground and air monitoring units, as well as their spy cells.