Warplanes strike hospital in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

Civil defense workers extinguishing damaged shops after shelling hit a street in the town of Ehssem, southern Idlib, Syria, on Friday. A hospital was struck in the area on Sunday. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Updated 05 May 2019
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Warplanes strike hospital in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

  • Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass
  • Attacks on hospitals and clinics in the past have preceded major government offensives on rebel-held areas

BEIRUT: Warplanes struck a hospital in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Sunday, knocking it out of service, as government forces continued to bombard the rebel-held region following insurgent attacks last week.
The latest fighting has killed dozens of people and displaced tens of thousands in Idlib and nearby rebel-held areas, who fled to safer regions further north. It’s the heaviest fighting in months, and has raised fears the government may launch a wider offensive to retake the country’s last major rebel stronghold.
Attacks on hospitals and clinics in the past have preceded major government offensives on rebel-held areas, including the 2016 attack on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo and last year’s offensive on eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass. The opposition-run activist collective Baladi News also reported the airstrike on the hospital, adding that it was not clear if there were casualties.
The Observatory said that since the early hours of Sunday, Russian warplanes carried out more than 50 airstrikes on Idlib and nearby Hama province. It said government and Russia bombardment killed at least six people on Sunday in different rebel-held areas.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry meanwhile said that two Turkish soldiers were wounded on Saturday when mortar shells fell near one of their positions in Hama province.
Turkey and Russia, who back opposite sides in Syria’s eight-year conflict, brokered a truce in September that averted a government offensive on Idlib. But the truce has been repeatedly violated, and parts of it have yet to be implemented, including the withdrawal of Al-Qaeda-linked militants from the front lines. Two major highways that cut through rebel-held areas were supposed to be reopened before the end of 2018 but remain closed.
The latest fighting erupted on April 30, three days after Al-Qaeda-linked militants launched attacks on the positions of government forces in northern Syria, killing 22 soldiers and pro-government gunmen.
“Any action taken by the Syrian Arab Army is legitimate since there has been no commitment to agreements reached,” a Syrian security official was quoted as saying by the government-run Syrian Central Military Media.
Pro-government media said insurgents shelled villages near the front lines, killing one civilian.
State news agency SANA quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying that insurgents are preparing to launch an offensive on government-held areas, warning that such an attack “would mark the beginning of their end.”
Government troops and insurgents have been reinforcing their positions in recent days in a sign that violence is expected to continue as Muslims mark the holy month of Ramadan beginning Monday.


Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters get a major boost as Ankara backs them with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them hold their ground. (Reuters)
Updated 27 min 21 sec ago
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Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

  • Ankara signals readiness to preserve its influence in Syria’s Idlib province in northwestern region

AMMAN: Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian opposition fighters it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault, senior opposition officials and opposition sources said on Saturday.
Russia is backing the Syrian army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of opposition-held territory in the northwest of the country.
Syria’s Bashar Assad launched the assault last month, saying fighters had breached an existing cease-fire, triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas. It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and the opposition fighters in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey, two senior opposition figures said.

FASTFACT

Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey.

In doing so Turkey signaled its readiness to preserve its influence in northwestern Syria, where it has beefed up its troop presence in a dozen military bases that were set up under a de-escalation deal with Russia, a senior opposition commander said. Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived in a base in northern Hama near opposition-held Jabal Al-Zawiya, where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks, a fighter and a witness said.
The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles helped roll back some army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda.