TUE 18 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jun 11, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Syria airstrikes kill 15 civilians after attack in Idlib
BEIRUT: Regime forces killed at least 15 civilians Sunday in airstrikes carried out in northwestern Syria in apparent retaliation for an attack by militants on two besieged government-held villages, an activist group said. The bombing raids hit a string of towns and villages in the northwestern province of Idlib, which is almost entirely controlled by various militant and hard-line rebels.

In the town of Taftanaz the strikes killed 10 civilians, including four children, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Syrian civil defense, known as White Helmets, said the death toll included four children and one woman and that those killed were all at the local pediatric hospital that was hit in the airstrike.

The observatory and an activist-run media center in Taftanaz said the hospital was put out of order.

At least five others were killed in the nearby towns of Binnish, Ariha and Ram Hamdan.

The airstrikes came a day after militants from al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate launched an attack on Al-Foua and Kfarya, two pro-government Shiite villages held by the regime but cut off by hard-line forces.

“This is the fiercest attack in around three years,” observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said, adding that Sunday’s airstrikes were in response to the attack.

Six Syrian pro-regime fighters and at least three from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance were killed in the fighting, which continued Sunday.

Syrian state news agency SANA also reported Saturday’s attack, and said local fighters were able to push back the militants.

Al-Foua and Kfarya represent the last remaining besieged populations in Syria, according to the United Nations, after the government recaptured the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.

The villages are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shiite. They first came under siege in 2015, when rebels ousted regime forces from most of Idlib province.

Since then, the mainstream opposition’s influence has dwindled as militants solidified their grip on the province, and regime forces have recaptured an eastern sliver of Idlib.

HTS and its allies control around 60 percent of the province, its local rivals hold about a third, and the regime controls about 10 percent, according to the observatory.

Now, even Daesh (ISIS) is conducting hit-and-run attacks in Idlib against its HTS rival. Last week, clashes between HTS and a Daesh sleeper cell made up of Iraqi militants left more than two dozen fighters dead, mostly from Daesh.

In retaliation, the Daesh cell executed five HTS fighters it had abducted in Idlib, the observatory said. HTS also killed six Daesh members it had captured in the clashes.

Idlib, which lies on the border with Turkey, has seen its population balloon to around 2 million people in recent years as fighters and civilians evacuated from other opposition areas are dumped there.

It was designated last year as a de-escalation zone, but violence has been creeping up again.

Separately, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published in British newspaper The Mail on Sunday that the West is fueling the war with the aim of toppling him, having lied about chemical attacks in his country and supported terrorists groups there.

“The whole approach toward Syria in the West is, ‘We have to change this government; we have to demonize this president, because they don’t suit our policies anymore.’” Assad said.

“They tell lies, they talk about chemical weapons,” he added. “They talk about the bad president killing good people, freedom and peaceful demonstrations.”

Assad also dismissed reports that Israel had conducted recent airstrikes in Syria with tacit Russian cooperation.

“Russia never coordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily,” Assad said. “How could they help the Syrian army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?”

Assad said he has remained in office through more than seven years of war because he has public support. “We are fighting the terrorists, and those terrorists are supported by the British government, the French government, the Americans and their puppets, whether in Europe or in our region,” he said.

“We are fighting them, and we have public support in Syria to fight those terrorists. That’s why we are advancing. We cannot make these advances just because we have Russian and Iranian support.”

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