Syrian regime, Russian forces kill over 40 civilians in Idlib province: Monitor

Syrian civilians flee an area targeted by a Russian airstrike on Maaret Al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2019

Syrian regime, Russian forces kill over 40 civilians in Idlib province: Monitor

  • Russian air force not carrying out any missions in this part of the country, Moscow says
  • The rebel-held northwest Syria has been the target of months of regime and Russian bombardment

MAARET AL-NUMAN/SYRIA: Regime and Russian airstrikes killed 43 people in northwest Syria on Monday, most of them in a crowded market, a war monitor said, in the latest violence to plague the opposition bastion.

In Maaret Al-Numan in Idlib province, men drenched in blood were carried away by residents and rescue workers, who used mattresses as makeshift stretchers, an AFP photographer said.
He saw the corpse of one man sprawled on the ground near a motorcycle, rubble surrounding his lifeless body.
With his eyes closed and his face covered in dust, another man clutched the arms of two people helping him out of the bombed area, the photographer added.
Thirty five civilians and two unidentified people were killed in raids that hit the vegetable market and surrounding areas in Maaret Al-Numan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which blamed the airstrikes on regime ally Russia.
Moscow, however, denied it was responsible, calling the reports “fake.”
“The Russian air force was not carrying out any missions in this part of Syria,” said a Defense Ministry statement.
More than 100 other people were wounded, according to the monitor, which said many of those injured were in a critical condition and people trapped under rubble.
The White Helmets rescue group said one of its volunteers was killed during the raids, raising the number of rescue workers killed since April to at least 6.
The opposition-run Idlib region, home to some 3 million people, is supposed to be protected by a months-old international truce deal, but it has come under increased bombardment by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia since late April.
The spike in violence has killed more than 650 civilians and damaged or knocked out of service two dozen health facilities.
More than 330,000 people have fled violence in the area over the past three months, according to the UN. In the Idlib town of Saraqib, another six civilians were killed in regime airstrikes on Monday, the Observatory said.
Meanwhile, retaliatory rocket fire by opposition groups killed seven civilians in the northern countryside of Hama province, state-run SANA news agency said.
Russia and opposition backer Turkey brokered an agreement in September seeking to stave off an all-out regime assault on Idlib, but the deal was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone.
The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group in January extended its control over the region, which spans most of Idlib province as well as slivers of the adjacent provinces of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo.
On Sunday, airstrikes on Idlib killed 18 people, including a young citizen journalist.
Anas Al-Dyab, a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, was a member of the White Helmets who also contributed to AFP. He was killed in Russian airstrikes in his hometown of Khan Sheikhun, rescuers and the Observatory said.
The Idlib region “has fast become one of most dangerous places in the world for civilians and aid workers today; a crisis within a crisis,” said David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“This violence must stop and it must stop now,” he told AFP.
In Damascus, President Bashar Assad on Monday received two Vatican cardinals who handed him a letter from Pope Francis expressing “deep concern for the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially the dramatic conditions of the civilian population in Idlib.”
Regime forces have been locked in battle with opposition fighters on the edges of the Idlib region but have failed to secure significant advances.
According to Sam Heller, an analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank (ICG), the violence is likely to continue until “Russia and Turkey reach an agreement to calm” the frontline.
In the meantime, “each side will try to put pressure on the other through their Syrian partners on the ground” or “directly, (as) with the Russian bombing of parts of Idlib,” he added.
Syria’s war has killed a total of more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests.


Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

Updated 29 February 2020

Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

PAZARKULE: Turkey vowed the Syrian regime will “pay a price” for dozens of dead Turkish soldiers and raised pressure on the EU over the conflict by threatening to let thousands of migrants enter the bloc.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing forces in the Syria conflict, held high-level talks to try to defuse tensions that have sparked fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.
Greek police clashed on Saturday with thousands of migrants who were already gathering on the border to try to enter Europe.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey which he said can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The comments were his first after Turkish 34 troops were killed since Thursday in the northern Syria province of Idlib where Moscow-backed Syrian regime forces are battling to retake the last rebel holdout area.
“What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. “We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
He was referring to a 2016 deal with the European Union to stop refugee flows in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held an emergency meeting to discuss tensions on the border with Turkey.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Thousands of migrants who remained stuck on the Turkish-Greek border were in skirmishes with Greek police on Saturday who fired tear gas to push them back, according to AFP photographer in the western province of Edirne.
The migrants massed at the Pazarkule border crossing responded by hurling stones at the police.
In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The pressure to cope with the influx split the European Union.
“Greece yesterday came under an organized, mass, illegal attack... a violation of our borders and endured it,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Saturday after the emergency meeting with Mitsotakis.
“We averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our land borders.”
A Greek police source said security forces fired tear gas Saturday morning against migrants massing on the Turkish side because the migrants had set fires and opened holes in the border fences.
Armed policemen and soldiers are patrolling the Evros river shores — a common crossing point — and are warning with loudspeakers not to enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities were also using drones to monitor the migrants moves.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai television the situation was under control
“I believe that the borders have been protected,” he said.
According to Hellenic Coast Guard, from early Friday to early Saturday 180 migrants reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.
The UN said nearly a million people — half of them children — have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting in northwest Syria since December.
Turkey said that Turkish forces destroyed a “chemical warfare facility,” just south of Aleppo, in retaliation its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib.
“As of last night, we blew up a depot housing seven chemical products,” Erdogan said. “We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years. A 34th Turkish soldier has since died.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the remaining chunks of the territory.
On Friday, Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions, with the Kremlin saying the two expressed “serious concern” about the situation.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends of the war, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an end to the Syrian offensive in Idlib and the deadly flare-up raising fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the eight-year civil war.