Clashes kill more than 100 fighters in northwest Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) – More than 100 fighters were killed in clashes between regime and extremist-led forces in northwest Syria, a war monitor said on Thursday, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a September truce deal.

Eight civilians also died in the latest violence since Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Six of them, including a child, were killed in regime air strikes on the town of Jisr al-Shughur.

The United Nations (UN) said it had received reports that the strikes hit medical facilities and health care workers.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and spiralled into a complex conflict since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russian and regime aircraft have since late April ramped up the deadly bombardment of the Idlib region of some three million people in northwest Syria, despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.

Regime forces have also been battling extremists and allied rebels on the edges of the bastion held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, including the north of Hama province.

Fighting and bombardment since the launch of the attack late Wednesday killed at least 57 regime forces and 44 extremists and allied rebels, the Britain-based war monitor said, giving a revised death toll.

“The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

UN Secretary General UN chief Antonio Guterres “strongly condemned” the ongoing airstrikes and urged that “civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, must be protected”.

“Several health facilities were reportedly hit yesterday, including a hospital in Maarat al Numan, one of the largest hospitals in the area,” the UN statement said on Thursday.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham spokesman Abu Khaled al-Shami said the extremist and rebel fighters attacked after dark, taking control of the village of Hamameyat and a hilltop.

In air raids on Thursday, a civilian was killed in a Russian strike on the Idlib town of Latamneh, the Observatory said, while rebel shelling cost the life of a woman in regime-held territory outside the extremist stronghold.

Elsewhere in Syria, eight civilians were among the 13 people killed in a car bomb near a checkpoint outside Afrin, the Observatory said.

Turkish troops and Syrian proxies took control of Afrin from Kurdish forces they consider “terrorists” in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

“Among the victims, at least six are originally from Eastern Ghouta,” a former rebel bastion near Damascus retaken by the regime last year, Abdel Rahman said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but a commander with a pro-Ankara faction accused Kurdish fighters.

Since the Turkish-backed rebel takeover, the UN and human rights groups have documented widespread abuses in Afrin.