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BEIRUT: Clashes on the edge of a jihadist bastion in northwestern Syria have killed 35 fighters in 24 hours, a monitor said on Monday, after regime bombardment on the region devastated health services.

The northwestern region has come under increasing fire by the regime and its ally Russia in recent weeks, despite a months-old buffer zone deal intended to shield it from any government offensive.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate, controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 loyalists and 19 jihadists died from Sunday to Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion’s northwestern edge.

Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday, while they also hit southern parts of the jihadist stronghold, said the Britain-based war monitor.

Russian air strikes hit a branch of the White Helmets rescue volunteers in the town of Kafranbel, rendering it unable to operate, the Observatory and a rescue worker said.

At the White Helmets facility, a correspondent saw a concrete roof had collapsed in on a bulldozer and other vehicles, and the ground was covered with rubble.

“Two high-explosive missiles hit the centre” just minutes after its personnel had headed out to the site of strikes in a nearby village, Oneida Zikra, the civil defence chief for the area, said.

To the south, rocket fire on Monday killed one child in the regime-held town of Suqaylabiyah in Hama province, the Observatory and the state news agency SANA said.

Idlib’s three million inhabitants are supposed to be protected from a massive regime assault by a September buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey. But an uptick in air strikes and shelling displaced 180,000 people between April 29 and May 9 alone, the United Nations says.

The Observatory says 119 civilians have been killed in the bombardment since late April. On Monday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 18 health facilities had been knocked out of service in a little over a fortnight, two of them hit twice.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019