BEIRUT: Syrian government and Russian warplanes on Saturday targeted the southern edge of Idlib province with the “most intense” airstrikes in weeks, according to activists and a war monitoring group, ratcheting up military pressure on the densely populated rebel-held bastion.
More than 60 air raids killed at least four civilians in southern Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rescue workers. The bombings also included indiscriminate barrel bombs, dropped from choppers, invariably blamed on the government.
The bombings, including shelling from government areas, came a day after Iran and Russia backed a military campaign in the rebel-held area despite Turkey’s pleas for a cease-fire. Turkey has troops and 12 observations points that circle Idlib.
State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said the government was retaliating against overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib. The shelling late Friday in Mhradah killed nine civilians, according to state media. The state news agency SANA said government forces have shelled “terrorist” posts in northern Hama.
But the government and Russian raids targeted a wide swath of rebel-held area in the southern edge of the rebel-held enclave that includes most of Idlib province and northern Hama province. More than 3 million people live in the area, nearly half of them already displaced from fighting elsewhere in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 68 air raids and 19 barrel bombs dropped Saturday on several of towns and villages in southwestern Idlib and Hama province. The area targeted over the past few days overlooks government-controlled areas.
The Observatory described the attacks on the rebel-held areas as the “most intense” since August and said they killed four in Abdeen, west of Khan Sheikhoun town, including two children and a woman.
The raids forced schools to close in Khan Sheikhoun, a town under attack, according to the Observatory.
The White Helmets, a team of first responders, also reported on the four people killed in Abdeen. The rescuers said another was killed in Halba, a village farther north. The group said one of its already damaged centers had been hit in the wave of airstrikes.