Regime, Russian air raids resume on Syria’s Idlib

BEIRUT (AFP) – Regime and Russian air raids pounded Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib on Sunday after an overnight lull, killing at least one child, a monitor said.

It was the second day of bombardment on the extremist and rebel-held province and adjacent areas, after key powerbrokers in Tehran failed to reach a deal to avert a government assault.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said heavy attacks resumed on the northwestern region near the Turkish border around midday on Sunday.

“Regime helicopters dropped more than 60 barrel bombs on the village of Hobait in Idlib’s southern countryside, killing at least one young girl” and wounding six other people, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

In the neighbouring province of Hama, Russian jets carried out more than 10 strikes on rebel positions in the village of Al-Latamneh, he said.

Smoke billows following Syrian government forces’ bombardment around the town of Al Habit on the southern edges of the rebel-held Idlib province on Sunday. – AFP

The raids wounded five rebels and knocked the village’s underground hospital out of action, just a day after strikes damaged a similar health facility in Idlib’s southern town of Hass.

Some of the heaviest bombardment in weeks hit Idlib and nearby areas on Saturday, killing at least nine civilians before coming to a halt by the evening, the Observatory said.

More than half of Idlib is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate, while most of the rest is held by rival rebels. The regime controls a southeastern chunk. HTS and rebels are also present in adjacent areas of the neighbouring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.

Hundreds of families have fled Idlib’s southeastern areas since Saturday, when Russian and regime strikes on the region were the most violent in a month, the Observatory said.

Idlib’s Health Chief Munzer Al-Khalil said on Saturday he feared “the most catastrophic crisis” in Syria’s seven-year war. He said he had travelled to Geneva to urge diplomats and United Nations (UN) officials to help prevent a “catastrophe”.

The UN has warned that any military campaign in Idlib could push up to 800,000 people to flee their homes.

The leaders of regime allies Russia and Iran met with the President of rebel backer Turkey in Tehran on Friday, but failed to reach an agreement to avoid a military assault.