Fierce fighting kills dozens in northwest Syria

Fierce fighting kills dozens in northwest Syria
Smoke rises following an airstrike on Harasta in Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 30 December 2017

Fierce fighting kills dozens in northwest Syria

Fierce fighting kills dozens in northwest Syria

AL-TAMANA, Syria: Intense fighting killed dozens of people on the edge of the last Syrian province entirely outside regime control as aid workers completed a series of medical evacuations from another opposition-held area on Friday.
The regime and allied forces backed by Russian warplanes took on mostly extremist fighters in an area straddling the border between Idlib and Hama provinces.
The fighting, which could signal the start of a major offensive to capture Idlib province escalated on Thursday.
Since then, at least 68 people have been killed in the ongoing clashes centered around an area called Al-Tamana, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among them were at least 21 civilians, said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based monitor.
They were killed in airstrikes carried out by Russian warplanes and by barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft, he said.
Twenty-seven soldiers and members of allied paramilitary units were killed in the fighting as well as 20 rebels from extremist groups or from former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al-Sham, he added.
Abdel Rahman said the latest deaths brought the number of civilians killed in the area since Monday to 42 and the death toll among combatants to 90.
An AFP correspondent near the front line said aerial activity was intense and the entire area rocked by frequent airstrikes.
Hundreds of civilians fled the scattering of villages in the area, creating queues of cars and pickup trucks loaded down with bags and furniture on the roads toward the city of Idlib.
Daesh, which proclaimed a “caliphate” over swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, has now lost almost all the land it once controlled.
But other factions opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad still control pockets scattered across Syria, the largest one being Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
Another is Eastern Ghouta, a small enclave east of the capital Damascus, which is controlled mostly by Jaish Al-Islam group and where around 400,000 residents still live.
The humanitarian situation there has deteriorated sharply in recent months and on Friday aid workers completed a series of medical evacuations of some of the most critical cases.
The last 13 in a group of 29 priority patients have now been evacuated, together with 56 members of their entourage, a health official said.
They were deemed among the most pressing cases on a list of around 500 people the UN said last month could die without urgent treatment outside the enclave, which has been besieged for four years.
Among them was Marwa, a 26-year-old woman suffering from meningitis and Zuheir Ghazzawi, a 10-year-old boy with cancer who had had a leg amputated.
The Observatory said the patients were evacuated as part of a deal that saw the rebels who control Eastern Ghouta release hostages and prisoners.
There were also 29 of them, including workers who were detained earlier this year and pro-government fighters captured by rebels in the area, in some cases years ago.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomed the evacuation as “a positive step.”
“But more needs to be done. The needs of civilians should come first, be it in Ghouta or elsewhere in Syria, and access to aid should be allowed on a more regular basis and without conditions," said the ICRC’s Syria chief Marianne Gasser.