Nearly 30 dead as Russia, Syria regime press Idlib assault

  • 10 Feb 2020

At least nine civilians were killed in Ibn Semaan village of Aleppo province, war monitor SOHR says, adding 20 other civilians were killed in neighbouring provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

Members of a Syrian civil defence team, known as the White Helmets, search for survivors under the rubble of a building, following reported air strikes on the Syrian town of Ibin Semaan, in the western countryside of Aleppo on February 10, 2020. ( AFP )

Russian and regime bombardment on the last major opposition and rebel enclave in Syria has killed 29 civilians in a day, a monitor said on Monday, as the regime's inexorable northward push raises tensions with Turkey.

Six children were among nine civilians killed in raids on the village of Ibn Semaan, in Aleppo province where Russian-backed regime forces have been waging a fierce offensive to retake a key highway, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At the site of the raids, a rescue worker carried out the body of a little girl in a thick woollen blanket, while one of her relatives pleaded to take the body, an AFP news agency correspondent said.

Volunteers shivering in near-freezing temperatures hacked away at mounds of rubble, rescuing a dust-covered man and a little child who had been trapped beneath.

The latest air strikes follow a night of heavy bombardment by Russia and the regime that had already killed at least 20 civilians in the neighbouring provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, according to the Observatory.

Since December, Syrian regime forces backed by Moscow have pressed a blistering assault against the Idlib region in northwest.

The violence has killed more than 350 civilians and sent tens of thousands people fleeing towards relative safety near the Turkish border. 

The violence in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo has displaced 689,000 people, said David Swanson, spokesman for the United Nation's humanitarian coordination office, OCHA.

"The number of people being displaced in this crisis is now spiralling out of control," he said.

Turkish military vehicles enter the Bal al-Halwa crossing at the Syrian-Turkish border in Idlib governorate, Syria. February 9, 2020.(Reuters)

Turkey continues to send reinforcements into Idlib

A main backer of the  Syrian opposition, Turkey has continued to send in large military reinforcements into the rebel-held areas. 

Ankara sent hundreds of military vehicles and troops into Idlib province in the past week. 

The buildup and the continued regime advances sparked a rare clash on February 3 between Turkish and Syrian regime forces after they attacked an observation post in Idlib that killed seven Turkish military personnel and one contractor. 

In retaliation, Turkish struck over 50 targets and killed 76 Syrian regime soldiers, according to Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, who said Ankara would keep its military observation posts in Idlib.

After the Turkish personnel were targeted by Assad's forces, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave an end-of-month deadline for the Syrian regime to retreat from Idlib.

"Turkey will be obliged to do so itself," if the regime failed in its retreat, President Erdogan said.

A view of trucks carrying belongings of displaced Syrians, is pictured in the town of Sarmada in Idlib province, Syria. January 28, 2020.(Reuters)

Fragile ceasefires

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Since then, however, more than 1,800 civilians there have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces as the ceasefire continues to be violated.

Turkey announced on January 10 that a new ceasefire in Idlib would start just after midnight on January 12, but the regime and Iran-backed militant groups continued their attacks.