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Russian air strikes kill 26 civilians in Syria

  • 21 Jan 2020

Renewed violence tightened the noose around Syria's last major rebel-held bastion and deepened an already dire humanitarian crisis.

A Syrian man mourns the death of family members next to the rubble of his house following a reported air strike on the village of Kafr Nuran, in the western countryside of the northern province of Aleppo, on January 21, 2020. ( AFP )

Russian warplanes have carried out fresh air strikes in the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria, killing at least 26 civilians, a Syrian civil defence group said Tuesday.

The victims included nine members of a single family, six of whom were children, in Kafr Taal, eight in Kafr Nuran, two each in Jidarya and Kafr Nahaada, one each in Erhab and Tamanin in the western country side of Aleppo province, according to White Helmets.

Another child was killed in Aleppo's Takad village while two other civilians were killed in Idlib's Bara village.

"Over the past three days, the bombardment on Idlib and its surroundings, including in western Aleppo, has been exclusively Russian," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The recent casualties came after a report from Syria's Response Coordination Group which said that Syrian regime and its backer Russia conducted over 300 air strikes in Idlib, resulting in the deaths of around 50 civilians, including children and women. 

Although the Russian Defence Ministry announced that a ceasefire went into effect as of January 9, the regime and Iranian-backed groups maintained ground attacks on the opposition-held city.

On January 10, Turkey announced that a new ceasefire in Idlib rocked by violence would start on January 12.

Spike in violence

The spike in violence in the neighbouring provinces of Aleppo and Idlib follows so far unsuccessful diplomatic attempts to reduce hostilities in the flashpoint region, with the latest truce, in theory, going into effect less than two weeks ago.

Most of Idlib and parts of Aleppo province are still controlled by factions opposed to Bashar al Assad's regime, including a group that includes onetime members of Al Qaeda's former Syria franchise.

The Damascus regime, which controls around 70 percent of the country after nearly nine years of war, has repeatedly vowed to recapture the region.

Idlib hosts at least three million people, many of whom have fled other parts of the country and are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Violations of ceasefire deals

Located in northwestern Syria next to Turkey's borderline, Idlib has been a fortress for opposition forces and anti-regime armed groups since the eruption of the bloody civil war in 2011.

The city population has climbed to a whopping four million due to domestic migration in the city centre amid intense attacks.

Turkey, Russia, and Iran held meetings in Astana city of Kazakhstan in 2017 and announced that Idlib and neighbouring cities, eastern Ghouta region of capital Damascus and southern regions, namely Daraa and Quneitra cities, would be de-escalation zones.

However, the Assad regime and Iranian-backed militias launched attacks in violation of the agreements and, thanks to Russian air support, gained control of all these territories with the exception of Idlib city.

The aggression continued after September 17, 2018, when Turkey and Russia held Sochi meetings in a bid to halt attacks, which have caused at least 1.3 million civilians to migrate towards the Turkish border while some 1,600 civilians were killed in bombardments.

'Seizing Idlib'

The head of Syria's White Helmets on Tuesday said the Syrian regime sought to capture Idlib through forced evacuations.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Raed al Saleh said: "The ceasefire in Idlib seems to be collapsed...the regime attempts to seize Idlib through evacuation." 

He said the international community remained silent to the suffering of those being bombed to death in Idlib city.

The regime and allies' aggression in southern Idlib have recently triggered forced migration of some 350,000 civilians, he stressed, adding: "Over a million civilians have fled their houses in Idlib since April 2019."

Saleh said a humanitarian disaster was imminent in Idlib city if the regime and allies maintained attacks.

He also said the locals are so desperate that they did not even dream about returning.

The aid organisations have had difficulty in meeting the needs of locals and hundreds of thousands of civilians were in dire need of humanitarian assistance, Saleh added.

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