Air strikes and shelling killed eight civilians in north-western Syria on Tuesday after deadly clashes between pro-regime and opposition forces rattled a months-old truce and sparked a new wave of displacement.

Smoke rises after Assad regime forces strike residential areas in Syria’s de-escalation zones on April 30, 2019 in Idlib.
Smoke rises after Assad regime forces strike residential areas in Syria’s de-escalation zones on April 30, 2019 in Idlib. (AA)

Air strikes and shelling killed eight civilians in north-western Syria on Tuesday after deadly clashes between pro-regime forces and opposition rattled a months-old truce and sparked a new wave of displacement.

At least 53 fighters have been killed since Monday, in one of the deadliest flare-ups since a demilitarised zone around the Idlib region was agreed in September last year, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Several deadly skirmishes have occurred since the deal was reached in Russia but the last few weeks have seen an uptick in violence inside the planned buffer zone.

"This is the third time we have been displaced but this time is the scariest," said Abu Ahmad, a 40-year-old from southern Idlib who was fleeing with his family towards areas near the border with Turkey on Tuesday.

"Overflights by warplanes and shelling have been relentless," said the father of three, his blue pick-up truck stacked with mattresses, bed sheets and household appliances.

Some parts of the region of some three million people are under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group dominated by fighters from a former Al Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, in one of the last parts of Syria regime of Bashar al Assad has yet to take back.

Assad's regime threatened an all-out assault on the area last year but that was averted by the deal for a de-militarised buffer zone between his ally Moscow and opposition backer Ankara.

The new wave of violence that began on April 30 is the worst since September, when Russia and Turkey brokered a ceasefire that averted a regime offensive on Idlib province, the last major opposition and rebel stronghold.

Wave of violence continues

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, say warplanes bombed a market in the village of Ras el Ain on Tuesday, killing four people and wounding 20. 

Rebels also fired rockets at a Russian air base in the region but were repelled, with the attack causing no casualties or damage, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

Twenty-four pro-regime fighters were killed in fierce fighting, the Observatory said.

Twenty-nine members of HTS and of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur-dominated militant group were also killed.

Fighting subsided early Tuesday after pro-regime forces thwarted several counter attacks and consolidated new positions, Observatory chief Rami Abdul Rahman told said.

But, the air and artillery bombardment continued for an eighth straight day, killing eight civilians, the war monitor said.

At least nine civilians were killed in shelling and air strikes on Monday.

Regime news agency SANA said Syrian troops launched rocket attacks on armed groups in northwestern Hama province on Tuesday, killing several fighters, but it did not provide any toll.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has called "for an urgent de-escalation of the situation as the holy month of Ramadan begins" and urged "the parties to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements of the memorandum signed on 17 September 2018."

A UN statement said Guterres was alarmed by "reports of aerial attacks on population centres and civilian infrastructure".

At least seven health facilities have been hit since April 28, it said.

Nine schools have also been struck since April 30, and many more have closed their doors indefinitely, it added.

One man who lost his wife, his daughter-in-law, and his two grandchildren during shelling overnight prepared a pickup truck to relocate surviving members of his family.

"I don't know where I'm going," he said.

Humanitarian disaster

More than 140,000 civilians have been forced to flee attacks since February, Refugees International said on Monday.

"It is difficult to overstate the urgency of this looming humanitarian disaster if nothing is done to protect these people," the non-governmental organisation said in a statement.

Escalated attacks have hit schools and medical facilities, according to the UN.

Since 28 April, at least seven healthcare facilities have reportedly been struck, including four in Hama and three in Idlib, said David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the bloody repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies