LONDON: Syrian regime forces deliberately killed elderly women in northwest Syria, leaked recordings obtained by the UK’s Daily Telegraph have shown.
The audio recordings from Feb. 11 also suggest that forces loyal to Bashar Assad attacked Turkish military posts in violation of a cease-fire deal.
The recordings captured a conversation between soldiers from the infamous elite Tiger Forces tracking a vehicle driving into the village of Mizanaz, to the west of Aleppo.
In the audio, intercepted by spotters at an observatory in the local area who picked up the soldiers’ frequency, one soldier can be heard saying: “There are women driving, their car is stuck in the mud and they’re headed to a battlefield.”
A second soldier said: “She looks elderly. It’s clear she’s coming to pack her belongings, then she’s leaving.”
Despite a clear identification of the women, one of the soldiers is heard saying: “I’m watching them. They’re about to enter a house. Yallah, I’m firing now.” At that point, rapid machinegun fire can be heard on the tape. “Fire, fire, I’m observing for you,” the second soldier replies.
Local media reports from the time and date of the audio recording support the assertion that the women were killed in the attack.
Regime forces have used attacks on civilians as part of their strategy to clear opposition-held areas of the country, while attacking civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals.
In September 2019, pro-Assad militants reportedly executed an elderly woman who refused to leave her home when it was confiscated after they recaptured the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
According to figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, regime forces and their Russian allies are responsible for 90 percent of civilian deaths in the nine-year conflict, with three quarters of those people victims of artillery or aerial shelling. The deliberate killing of non-combatants is a war crime under international law.
The Telegraph’s report also revealed recordings showing regime forces actively attacking Turkish posts in Idlib province that were set up as part of a de-escalation deal negotiated with Russia in 2018.
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The attacks prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to urge his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “restrain” Assad’s advance in Idlib.
On Saturday, a member of Turkey’s military was killed in Idlib in a bomb attack by the regime forces, a regional governorate said.
This is the 16th soldier killed there so far this month. The Gaziantep governorate said the victim was a tank mechanic.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has discussed the situation in Idlib with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, Russian news agencies reported on Saturday.
“During the telephone conversation they discussed issues of stabilization of the situation in Idlib de-escalation zone,” Interfax agency reported, citing a statement from the Defense Ministry.
Syrian regime declared the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo open to the public on Saturday after troops recaptured the major artery in a Russian-backed offensive.
Taking back the M5 highway from insurgents marks a big gain for Bashar Assad, as it restores state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
Control of the M5 has been seen as the main goal of the regime forces’ latest offensive. With Russian backing, Assad’s troops have gained ground in northwest Syria, the last major opposition stronghold, since December.