Syrian regime captures towns in Idlib
The Syrian regime has reportedly captured two strategic towns in Idlib over the past few days as they continue a push into the last remaining rebel-held enclave in the country.
The regime captured the town of Qalaat al-Madiq on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The capture comes a day after regime forces took the nearby town of Kafr Nabouda, according to the pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan.
Syria’s elite troops, known as the Tiger Forces, backed by Russian air power, launched ground operations this week against the southern flank of the rebel zone in Idlib and Hama province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had withdrawn after being nearly encircled by the army.
The area is supposed to be protected by a Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreed last September to avert a major new battle. The latest wave of fighting that began last week is the most serious challenge yet to the ceasefire.
The head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, warned that an all-out conflict in in Idlib: “Could generate an unimaginable human rights and humanitarian catastrophe”. Pinheiro added the current aerial and ground offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies is “a serious escalation”.
The UN said that at least 80 people have been killed since the bombing campaign began on 28 April. About 150,000 people have fled the areas under bombardment over the past two weeks and 16 aid organisations have stopped operating. The US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations says 13 medical facilities have been destroyed during the regime’s advance. Civilian areas have also been hit by indiscriminate barrel bombs, the aid agency reported.
The UN Security Council will meet today to discuss the escalation of violence in Idlib, where hospitals and schools have been hit by regime strikes, diplomats said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Wednesday that the targeting of schools and hospitals amount to “an unacceptable violation of international law”.