70 killed in clashes between Syrian forces, Idlib fighters

Updated December 02, 2019

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A Syrian youth walks through rubble and debris in a building that was damaged by a reported government forces' air strike in the village of al-Haraki in the northwestern Idlib province on December 1. — AFP
A Syrian youth walks through rubble and debris in a building that was damaged by a reported government forces' air strike in the village of al-Haraki in the northwestern Idlib province on December 1. — AFP

SURMAN: Two days of clashes between regime forces and armed groups in Syria’s last major opposition bastion have killed nearly 70 on both sides, undermining a months-long ceasefire agreement, a war monitor said on Sunday.

The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are “the most violent” there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August, said Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Residents of affected villages fled north to escape the fighting, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have already flooded out of the province’s violence-plagued south since fighting escalated earlier this year.

On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maaret al-Numan region as warplanes pounded jihadists and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from regime forces.

The Britain-based Observatory on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day.

At least 36 regime forces were among those killed.

The Observatory said an attack led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting.

Overnight, the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles, the war monitor said.

Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing, the Observatory and an AFP correspondent said.

Air strikes on Sunday afternoon hit jihadist-run areas dozens of kilometres away from the main frontline, signalling a potential escalation, the correspondent said.

The Idlib front was the main focus of Syrian regime forces before Turkey in October launched an invasion of swathes of northeast Syria.

The operation against Kurdish forces who had controlled the region since 2012 paved the way for mass regime deployments in the area for the first time in seven years.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019