SARMEEN, Syria: Airstrikes by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally Sunday killed 14 civilians in the last major opposition bastion of Idlib in the country’s northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Moscow-backed government forces have upped their deadly bombardment of the jihadi-dominated region in recent weeks, chipping at its southern edge and causing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Eight of those killed Sunday died in a regime barrel bomb attack in the town of Sarmeen, seven from the same family, the Observatory said.
Rescue workers pulled the bodies of a 9-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy from the debris of a two-story building, an AFP correspondent in the town said.
Their father, Abu Fida, stood by weeping. “It’s a terrible disaster,” he said. Abu Fida said he and his family had fled bombardment on Sarmeen Thursday, with just the clothes on their back.
They returned Saturday night to collect their belongings, deciding to spend a last night at home before leaving for good. “I wanted to get my family out this morning but my wife told me to go to work. So I sent them a driver with a car to transport their things,” but then aircraft hit the house, he told AFP.
His wife was inside the house when it was struck, but he survived with three other children.
In recent months, pro-Damascus forces have pressed northward along the M5 highway that connects the capital Damascus to second city Aleppo in the north, crossing Idlib.
Last week the government forces retook the key town of Maaret al-Numan along the highway and are now just few kilometres from the abandoned town of Saraqeb.
Clashes are also raging in the bastion’s eastern flank in Aleppo province, where state news agency SANA said four television journalists were wounded Sunday. The journalists for a pro-Damascus channel and two Arabic-language Iranian outlets were targeted by “terrorists,” SANA said, using its blanket term for jihadis and rebels. A Turkish-Russian deal in 2018 saw Turkish troops deploy at observation posts around Idlib, but the agreement has failed to stem repeated regime military offensives.
Sunday morning, an AFP correspondent and the Observatory said a Turkish military convoy of hundreds of vehicles entered northern Syria.
Increased violence since early December has forced around 388,000 people to escape their homes in northwestern Syria, the United Nations says. The Observatory says that more than 260 civilians have been killed.