Date: May 6, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Warplanes hit hospital as regime keeps bombing Idlib
BEIRUT/HASS, Syria: Warplanes struck a hospital in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province Sunday, knocking it out of service, as government forces continued to bombard the rebel-held region following insurgent attacks last week.

The latest fighting has killed dozens of people and displaced tens of thousands in Idlib and nearby rebel-held areas who fled to safer regions further north. It’s the heaviest fighting in months, and has raised fears the government may launch a wider offensive to retake the country’s last major rebel stronghold.

The raids were blamed on Russia by Syria Relief and Development, a non-governmental organization that runs the facility, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group.

It is the fourth medical center to have been put out of operation within a few days in an intensifying bombardment of the northwestern province and other adjacent territories held by militants.

“The hospital ... is out of order because of the raids,” said Ubaida Dandush, who works for Syria Relief and Development.

The facility had been evacuated shortly before the bombardments, he said, thanks to alerts from a warning system set up to analyze the flight paths of warplanes.

Attacks on hospitals and clinics in the past have preceded major government offensives on rebel-held areas, including the 2016 attack on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo and last year’s offensive on eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The Observatory said Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass. It said that since the early hours of Sunday, Russian warplanes carried out more than 50 airstrikes on Idlib and nearby Hama province. Government and Russia bombardment killed at least seven people Sunday in different rebel-held areas, it added.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said that two Turkish soldiers were wounded Saturday when mortar bombs fell near one of their positions in Hama province.

Turkey and Russia, who back opposite sides in Syria’s 8-year-old conflict, brokered a truce in September that averted a government offensive on Idlib. But the truce has been repeatedly violated, and parts of it have yet to be implemented, including the withdrawal of Al-Qaeda-linked militants from the front lines. Two major highways that cut through rebel-held areas were supposed to be reopened before the end of 2018 but remain closed.The latest fighting erupted on April 30, three days after Al-Qaeda-linked militants launched attacks on the positions of government forces in northern Syria, killing 22 soldiers and pro-government gunmen.

“Any action taken by the Syrian Arab Army is legitimate since there has been no commitment to agreements reached,” a Syrian security official was quoted as saying by the government-run Syrian Central Military Media.

Pro-government media said insurgents shelled villages near the front lines, killing one civilian.

State news agency SANA quoted an unidentified Syrian military official as saying insurgents were preparing to launch an offensive on government-held areas, warning such an attack “would mark the beginning of their end.”

Government troops and insurgents have been reinforcing their positions in recent days in a sign that violence is expected to continue.