JEDDAH: At least 15 civilians were killed on Monday in airstrikes by Assad regime and Russian fighter jets on targets in Idlib in northwest Syria.
More than 100 people have now died in two days of renewed fighting in the area. Regime leader Bashar Assad met an envoy from Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus on Monday to discuss the Idlib crisis and attacks launched by militant groups based there.
Idlib is the last remaining opposition stronghold in Syria, and much of it is under the control of a militant alliance led by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
About three million people live in Idlib, including several hundred thousand displaced by the eight-year civil war. The renewed fighting there is the most deadly since a Russia-brokered de-escalation and cease-fire took effect in August.
In Monday’s airstrikes, regime warplanes struck a fruit and vegetable market in Maaret Al-Numan, south of Idlib, and a second produce market in Saraqib to the east. Video footage posted online by the White Helmets rescue group showed victims being carried away from demolished produce stands and burnt-out vehicles.
Maher Mohammed, 35, a trader in the market, said it was the most frightening bombardment he had seen in years.
“We ran inside the shops and threw ourselves on the ground,” he said. “They bombarded half the market. Our neighbors were killed, and two women in a car who had come to do some shopping.”
The Syria Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces and armed groups were locked in heavy clashes on the southeastern edge of the region. “Fighting raged at dawn on Monday on several axes in the southeastern Idlib countryside,” the monitoring group said.
Fifty-four regime fighters had been killed, along with 47 of their opponents, including 33 HTS militants.
Elsewhere in Syria, eight children were among 11 civilians killed in a Turkish artillery attack near a school in Tal Rifaat in Aleppo province. The town, 20km south of the Turkey-Syria border, is the scene of frequent fighting between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish fighters they view as terrorists.
Most of those killed in the attack were displaced from the Afrin region, which was captured last year by Turkish troops and their Syrian allies. Turkey threatened last year to launch a cross-border offensive to capture Tal Rifaat after taking Afrin from the Kurdish YPG militia.