US warns Syria, Russia against ‘reckless escalation’ as 21 civilians killed in air strikes

Syrian regime forces clash with extremists near Jabriya in Hama province. At least 21 civilians were killed as Syria’s regime intensified its bombardment of the last extremist stronghold in the country’s northwest. (AFP)
Updated 29 May 2019
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US warns Syria, Russia against ‘reckless escalation’ as 21 civilians killed in air strikes

  • Nine children were among the 21 killed in government fire on several towns in Idlib province and the countryside of neighboring Aleppo
  • Strikes on a busy street in the village of Kafr Halab, on the western edge of Aleppo province, killed at least nine civilians

BEIRUT: At least 21 civilians were killed on Tuesday as Syria’s regime intensified its bombardment of the last extremist stronghold in the country’s northwest, a monitor said.

Nine children were among the 21 killed in government fire on several towns in Idlib province and the countryside of neighboring Aleppo, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And the US continues to be alarmed by Syrian government and Russian air strikes in northern Syria, saying recent attacks have killed more than 200 civilians, the State Department said on Tuesday.

"Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructure such as schools, markets and hospitals is a reckless escalation of the conflict and is unacceptable," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

Strikes on a busy street in the village of Kafr Halab, on the western edge of Aleppo province, killed at least nine civilians.

An AFP photographer said the bodies of the victims were torn apart and several stores lining the side of the road were destroyed. The street was crowded with people out and about before breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. A hospital in the Idlib town of Kafranbel was also hit by artillery shells, said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.

“The facility is reportedly out of service due to severe structural damage,” he told AFP.

The hospital’s administrative director Majed Al-Akraa confirmed the attack. The hospital is completely out of service,” he said.

“It was a strong attack. The generators and even my car caught fire,” he told AFP.

It follows two days of intensified regime bombardment on the region that killed a total of 31 civilians on Sunday and Monday, according to the Britain-based Observatory.Rescue volunteers and civilians were seen pulling dust-covered victims from the rubble of destroyed buildings in the wake of those strikes.

Idlib and parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia are under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an extemist group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a September buffer zone deal, but the extremist bastion has come under increasing bombardment by the regime and its ally Russia since late April.

The Observatory says nearly 280 civilians have been killed in the spike in violence since then.

More than 200,000 civilians have already been displaced by the upsurge of violence, according to the United Nations.

The UN has warned an all-out offensive on the region would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe for its nearly three million residents.

At least 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation — 19 of which remain out of service, the UN has said.

Also on Tuesday, France's top diplomat also said that the country had an "indication" that a chemical attack had been carried out in Syria's Idlib province this month, an attack alleged by Washington last week.

"We have an indication that chemical weapons were used in the Idlib region, but for now it has not been verified," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary commission.

"We're being cautious because we consider that chemical weapons use has to be proven and be lethal, in which case we can react," he said.

President Emmanuel Macron has made use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government a "red line" that would trigger a military reprisal against the regime of President Bashar Assad.


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 16 June 2019
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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.