DAMASCUS: The latest strikes in an unprecedented wave of regime bombardment on a jihadist enclave in northwestern Syria killed at least 13 civilians on Wednesday, a war monitor said.
Air strikes, some using deadly barrel bombs, and shelling by both government and Russian warplanes have claimed a mounting civilian death toll over the past few weeks.
The violence, which has rattled a fragile truce deal brokered by Moscow and Ankara in September, is causing mass displacement and bringing Syria to the brink of the worst humanitarian catastrophe yet in its eight-year-old conflict.
The United States and the United Nations demanded an end to airstrikes on Tuesday, as bombardment by Damascus killed 27 people — the single highest civilian death toll in the region since the regime increased attacks in late April.
But on Wednesday, aerial bombardment did not relent.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organisation, seven of Wednesday’s victims were killed in an air raid on the village of Sarja.
It lies in Idlib province, most of which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by former members of Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.
The four other victims were a father and his three children in the village of Bara, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
Two others were killed in strikes on the Idlib town of Hbeit, he said.
“The bombardment by the regime and Russia continues to be intense on several areas. The Russian strikes are focused on Khan Sheikhun but have not caused any casualties for now,” he said.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported one woman was killed by jihadist shelling on northern Hama.
SPARE NO EFFORT
The regime has not announced an all-out offensive to retake the entire jihadist enclave, a large area which is home to almost three million people.
Analysts predict that the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies will continue to chip away at the area but not unleash a major assault that would create chaos on Turkey’s doorstep.
The regime is likely to continue applying sustained military pressure whilst attempting to preserve a fragile truce agreement reached in Russia last year to spare the region a large-scale humanitarian disaster.
On Tuesday, Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said Damascus “will spare no effort” to free the residents of Idlib from jihadist control, according to comments carried by SANA.
UN deputy aid chief Ursula Mueller, however, told the Security Council that a further escalation would threaten humanitarian assistance for the region’s residents.
She said some 270,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Idlib since late April.
Aid agencies have been forced to suspend their work in some areas, she said, adding that 22 hospitals and clinics had been hit by air strikes or shelling since April 28.
The United States has said that “indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructures such as schools, markets and hospitals is a reckless escalation.”
The civilian death toll has mounted in and around Idlib in recent days, reaching more than 270 over the past month, according to the Observatory.
In villages struck by regime raids, excavators dug new graves and civilians buried the dead stealthily at dusk to avoid being targeted by more air raids.
The conflict in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011.