Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens

Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens
A Syrian carries the body of a child at the site of a regime airstrike on the village of Deir Sharqi in Maaret Al-Numan, Idlib on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 17 August 2019

Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens

Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens
  • Airstrike in the village of Deir kills seven people, mostly children

BEIRUT: Airstrikes have killed more than two dozen civilians including 11 children in opposition-held northwestern Syria in the last two days in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive, a war monitor and local activists said on Saturday.

An airstrike in the village of Deir killed seven people, mostly children, on Saturday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. On Friday, airstrikes in the village of Al-Haas killed 13 people. The dead included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, local activists and the Observatory said.

They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area.

Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Observatory said the regime’s aim appeared to be to force civilians to flee from areas that had been relatively unscathed in a military escalation that began in late April.

“They are bombing the towns and their outskirts to push people to flee,” he said.

‘No military positions’

Ahmad Al-Dbis, safety and security manager for the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, said the bombardment had widened into populated areas where there were no military positions.

“They are being targeted to drive the people toward forced displacement,” he told Reuters.

Dbis said the number of civilians killed by regime or Russian forces stood at more than 730 since late April. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said more than 500 civilians have died in hostilities.

Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians and are instead aimed at opposition forces including the Nusra Front, an opposition group known today as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.

The northwestern region including Idlib province is part of the last major foothold of the opposition to Syria’s Bashar Assad.

France called on Friday for an immediate end to the fighting. The French Foreign Ministry added that it condemned in particular airstrikes on camps for the displaced.

The upsurge in violence has already forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee toward the Turkish border.

A Turkey-backed Syrian opposition force based north of the city of Aleppo, the National Army, said it had yet to send reinforcements to help the Idlib opposition fighters due to technical reasons.

“There is a meeting today among the factions over preparations for the National Army to enter Idlib and we are awaiting the results of this meeting,” Maj. Youssef Hammoud, its spokesman, said.

The regime side has been advancing toward the town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib province, threatening to encircle the last remaining pocket of opposition-held territory in neighboring Hama province.