Nearly 30 civilians dead in heavy bombing on north Syria: monitor

Government airstrikes on opposition-held territory in northwest Syria killed around 30 people. (File photo / Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2018

Nearly 30 civilians dead in heavy bombing on north Syria: monitor

  • Dozens of air strikes and shelling hit parts of the last swathe of Syrian territory still held by rebels
  • The three areas in northwest Syria are the last major ones still in the hands of fighters seeking to overthrow Assad

BEIRUT: Heavy bombardment killed nearly 30 civilians across northern Syria on Friday, a monitor said, in some of the fiercest shelling of rebel-held areas there in months.
The air strikes and barrel bombs targeted the key opposition-held province of Idlib in Syria’s northwest and a rebel town in the adjacent province of Aleppo.
Idlib is the largest chunk of territory still in rebel hands, and President Bashar Assad has warned it would be his next target.
The province’s southwest was shelled heavily on Thursday and the bombing the next day “moved further east,” leaving 11 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Air strikes by Russian warplanes and barrel bombs from Syrian helicopters hit southern parts of Idlib province today in very heavy shelling,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Friday.
“It’s the most intense bombing since Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone last year,” he told AFP.
The shelling left eight civilians dead in the main town of Khan Sheikhun, and another three including a child died in nearby Al-Tah.
The White Helmets, a rescue force operating in opposition-held areas of Syria, said its volunteers were responding to a bombing blitz on both Khan Sheikhun and Al-Tah.
A White Helmets rescuer in Khan Sheikhun told AFP that residential districts had been hit.
Hours later, air strikes pummelled the main rebel town of Orum Al-Kubra in the neighboring province of Aleppo, the Observatory said, without being able to immediately identify if they were Syrian or Russian.
“The death toll is now at 18 civilians including three children, and dozens of people injured,” said Abdel Rahman.
Rebels have lost swathes of the territory they once controlled in Syria to regime forces over the last few months, including three areas that had been designated as “de-escalation zones” last year.
Assad’s troops now appear to have set their sights on the last such area, Idlib.
The Britain-based Observatory said regime reinforcements, including troops and equipment, had been amassing around the southwestern part of Idlib for several days.
But a full-fledged assault would be devastating for the estimated 2.5 million people living in Idlib, many of them rebels and civilians bussed out of other areas that came back under regime control.
The United Nations appealed Thursday for talks to avert “a civilian bloodbath” in the province, which borders Turkey.
“The war cannot be allowed to go to Idlib,” said Jan Egeland, head of the UN’s humanitarian taskforce for Syria.
Around 60 percent of Idlib is held by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which is led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
Rival factions control most of the rest, but Syrian troops have carved out a small southeastern part.
Government helicopters on Thursday dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s eastern countryside urging people to surrender.


Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

Updated 27 min ago

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

  • Health personnel in protective gear took the temperature of disembarking passengers
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.
The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late Sunday morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.
It showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.
The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.
An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport waiting to transport the passengers.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army, he said.
Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines has said flights would also land in Beirut on Sunday from Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan.
It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.
They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.
The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.
But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.
Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.
Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.
On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.
Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.
Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who can’t afford it.
The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive — $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example — because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.