Children, rescuers among 16 killed by Syria govt fire
Regime bombardment killed 16 civilians including seven children and three rescue workers in militant-run northwest Syria Thursday, as fighting killed dozens on the edges of the anti-government bastion.
The Idlib region, home to some 3 million people, is supposed to be protected by a months-old international truce deal, but it has come under increased bombardment by the regime and its Russian ally since late April.
A regime airstrike targeted an ambulance in the town of Maaret al-Numan, killing three rescue workers inside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An AFP photographer saw a destroyed ambulance and rescuers carrying a survivor from the vehicle with his arm in shreds.
Syrian charity Benefsej, which owned the ambulance, said three of its workers had been killed. “It was a direct targeting of the ambulance,” said charity member Fouad Issa.
A woman also died in the ambulance while she was being transported for treatment, he added.
In a statement posted on social media networks, the charity described the attack as a “violation of international humanitarian law.” “Ensuring the protection of humanitarian and health facilities via the international community is a necessity for us to continue our work.”
Fighting raged Thursday in the north of Hama province, leaving at least 22 anti-regime fighters and 28 loyalists dead in the clashes around Tal Meleh village, the Observatory said. More than 90 fighters were killed in the same area over the two previous days, said the war monitor.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem Wednesday pledged a full return of regime control to Idlib in the latest such warning from the Damascus government. “Idlib is a Syrian province and the operations the Syrian army is conducting are on Syrian soil and a legitimate right toward liberating the land,” he told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen television channel.
Analysts have however said they did not expect a full-out offensive to retake the region on Turkey’s doorstep for now.
Syria expert Sam Heller said the regime and Russia were seeking to secure neighboring loyalist areas and a key Russian military airbase to the west of Idlib, as well as exert pressure on Turkey to implement the September buffer zone deal.
“Damascus is still evidently intent on taking the whole of Idlib, and all Syrian territory nationwide,” the International Crisis Group analyst said.
“But it’s Russia that’s enabled this latest military push, seemingly with more limited aims.”
President Bashar Assad Thursday met the Kremlin’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin in Damascus, state news agency SANA reported. They discussed developments in Syria, including efforts to eradicate “terrorism,” SANA said, using the regime’s term for rebels and Islamist militants.