Fighting in northwestern Syria strains truce, kills 13

BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian government forces and insurgents exchanged a barrage of rockets last Sunday in the country’s northwest that killed at least 13 people and hit a government-run hospital, activists and government media reported.

The violence strained a fragile months-old truce negotiated between Russia and Turkey that averted a government offensive on Idlib and surrounding areas, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

The region is home to some three million people, including many displaced from other battles in the civil war.

The head of the local hospital in government-held Massyaf said insurgent shelling killed a rescue worker and four other people. Maher Younis told the state-run Ikhbariya TV that five children who were arriving at the hospital and two dentists were wounded.

One of the wounded told Ikhbariya from her hospital bed that the missile landed when she and her mother were arriving to do some medical tests.

A civil defence worker helps a child after shelling at a street in Nairab town, in the eastern province of Idlib, Syria. – AP

“We only felt a big bang. I was wounded in my hand and my mom in her leg,” she said, without giving her name.

Hospitals and civilian infrastructure have frequently come under fire over the course of the eight-year civil war, and rights groups say government forces have targetted medical facilities on several occasions.

The government denies targetting such facilities and said the rebels use them for military purposes. The rebels do not have precision missiles, and mainly rely on homemade or outdated arms.

The United Nations (UN) said close to half of all hospitals and primary health care facilities in Syria are either partially functional or not functional due to damage inflicted by the war in the last eight years.

The insurgent fire came amid heightened tensions following days of government fire on villages and towns on the edge of the enclave.

Opposition-allied first responders known as the White Helmets said government shelling killed at least eight people, including one child, in Saraqeb and Nairab towns in eastern Idlib.