Russian, govt planes strafe Syria’s north-west, kill 28

Updated June 15, 2019

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Damaged and destroyed buildings in Ihsim, a town in Syria’s Idlib region.—AFP
Damaged and destroyed buildings in Ihsim, a town in Syria’s Idlib region.—AFP

BEIRUT: Regime and Russian air strikes and shelling have killed at least 28 people including seven civilians in embattled northwest Syria, a war monitor said on Friday, despite a ceasefire announced by Moscow.

The civilians were killed in regime air strikes and shelling on the south of Idlib province and the north of Hama province on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Russian and regime air strikes also killed 21 jihadist and Islamist fighters in the same region the same day, the Britain-based monitor added.

The Idlib region of some three million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarised zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 360 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and jihadists.---Turkey refuses Russian ‘excuse’ over Syria strikesTurkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last rebel bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has backed rebel forces in the eight-year conflict.

They have worked closely to find a political solution under the Astana process despite being on opposing sides.

Cavusoglu insisted moderate Syrian rebels in Idlib — for which Turkey acts as guarantor in peace negotiations — had stuck to their obligations under a buffer zone agreement reached last September.

But he accused Damascus of sending armed radical groups to Idlib from Aleppo, East Ghouta and Hama to foment trouble and provide an excuse for renewed conflict.

“We knew in the future, after other areas had been captured, that the regime would attack Idlib using the excuse of the radical groups’ presence after sending them there,” Cavusoglu said.

Turkey says its observation posts in Idlib have twice been attacked by Syrian regime forces — once in May and again on Thursday — leading to several injuries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was “not possible for Turkey to stay silent” if such attacks continued.

“We will do what is necessary because we want peace to be sovereign here, for the deaths to stop,” he told a press conference in Istanbul.

Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new ceasefire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Hundreds have been killed in the recent bombardments, with Turkey fearful of a mass refugee exodus from the province that is home to three million people.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019