More than 60 dead in latest Syria clashes

BEIRUT (AFP) – Clashes between Syrian regime forces and armed groups in the country’s last major opposition bastion have killed more than 60 on both sides in the past 24 hours despite United Nations (UN) calls for de-escalation, a war monitoring group said yesterday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 38 militants and allied rebels had been killed in battles with regime forces in the northwestern province of Idlib since Thursday night.

The fighting near the extremist-held town of Maaret al-Numan also killed 23 Syrian regime loyalists, the Observatory said.

Russian warplanes, meanwhile, pounded areas around Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqib with a series of air strikes, according to the war monitor.

The flare-up triggered a wave of displacement from nearby areas, said an AFP correspondent there.

Yasser Ibrahim al-Dandal said he was fleeing with his family to olive groves in northern Idlib, where they would sleep out in the open. “Hundreds of rockets hit Maarat al-Numan,” he told AFP. “The situation is very bad.”

The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of it. Pro-government forces launched a blistering offensive against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes.

Moscow announced a ceasefire in late August, but the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted.

The UN this week condemned a deadly rise in violence in the area after the Observatory reported that regime air strikes and artillery fire had killed 23 civilians on Tuesday.

Najat Rochdi, senior humanitarian adviser to the UN’s Syria envoy, called for “immediate de-escalation”.