Thirty killed across Syria as vi­o­lence rages

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

MAARET AL-NU­MAN, Syria: Airstrikes killed 19 civil­ians Mon­day in Syria’s last ma­jor op­po­si­tion bas­tion, the site of the dead­li­est clashes be­tween regime forces and armed groups since an Au­gust cease-fire came into force, an ac­tivist group said.

More than 100 kilo­me­ters to the north, a sep­a­rate Turk­ish ar­tillery at­tack on a Kur­dish-held city in Aleppo prov­ince killed 11 civil­ians, in­clud­ing eight chil­dren, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

Syria’s bloody 8-year-old con­flict has killed more than 370,000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions since it started in 2011.

It con­tin­ues to claim scores of civilian lives, es­pe­cially in ar­eas out­side gov­ern­ment con­trol.

In the prov­ince of Idlib, largely un­der the con­trol of a group dom­i­nated by a former Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate, regime air raids killed 13 civil­ians in a mar­ket in the town of Maaret al-Nu­man, the Bri­tain­based Ob­ser­va­tory said.

An AFP correspond­ent saw res­cue work­ers carry a wounded man away on a stretcher while a body lay mo­tion­less amid spilled or­anges and bags of onions.

Ma­her Mo­ham­mad, 35, a ven­dor in the mar­ket, said it was the most fright­en­ing bom­bard­ment he had wit­nessed in years.

“We ran in­side the shops and threw our­selves on the ground,” the fa­ther of five told AFP.

“They bom­barded half the mar­ket. Our neigh­bors were killed,” as were two women in a car who had come to do some shop­ping, he said.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said six oth­ers died in Rus­sian and regime bom­bard­ment in other parts of the prov­ince, in­clud­ing a woman and her two chil­dren in a Rus­sian strike on an Idlib prison.

On the south­east­ern edge of the re­gion, regime forces and armed groups were locked in heavy clashes, with al­most 100 fight­ers killed in two days, ac­cord­ing to the ac­tivist group.

The bat­tles on the fringes of Idlib since Satur­day are the most deadly since a Rus­sia-bro­kered cease-fire went into ef­fect in late Au­gust, it said.

Fifty-four regime fight­ers had been killed, while 47 of their foes in­clud­ing 33 mil­i­tants had also lost their lives since Satur­day, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad has long main­tained that his gov­ern­ment will even­tu­ally reim­pose its con­trol over the north­west­ern re­gion on the bor­der with Tur­key.

Dur­ing a meet­ing Mon­day with Rus­sia’s special en­voy for Syria, Alexan­der Lavren­tiev, As­sad agreed to “con­tinue the fight against ter­ror­ism” so that Idlib would not

be­come “a per­ma­nent haven for ter­ror­ists,” the pres­i­dency said.

The late Au­gust cease-fire came months into a dev­as­tat­ing Rus­sia-backed regime of­fen­sive that killed around 1,000 civil­ians and ousted hun­dreds of thou­sands from their homes.

But spo­radic clashes and deadly Rus­sian and regime bom­bard­ment on the mil­i­tant-held bas­tion have con­tin­ued, with 179 civil­ians in­clud­ing 45 chil­dren killed dur­ing that time.

In the strate­gic city of Tal Ri­faat, con­trolled by lo­cal Kur­dish fight­ers, a Turk­ish ar­tillery at­tack hit near a school as stu­dents were leav­ing the build­ing.

Most of the 11 civil­ians killed in the shelling had been dis­placed from the Afrin re­gion cap­tured last year by Turk­ish troops and their Syr­ian prox­ies, Ob­ser­va­tory head Rami Ab­del-Rahman said.

Footage re­leased by Kur­dish-run me­dia pur­ported to show bloody and ban­daged young men be­ing car­ried into a crowded med­i­cal fa­cil­ity af­ter the at­tack.

Wrapped in thick wool blan­kets, the corpses of the de­ceased were lined up on the floor of an empty room in the same fa­cil­ity, in the footage. Out­side, rel­a­tives broke down cry­ing. Tal Ri­faat, a strate­gic town 20 kilo­me­ters south of Tur­key’s fron­tier, is the site of reg­u­lar con­fronta­tions be­tween Turk­ish-backed forces and Kur­dish fight­ers.

Tur­key threat­ened to launch a cross-bor­der of­fen­sive to cap­ture Tal Ri­faat last year af­ter tak­ing Afrin from the U.S.-backed Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) mili­tia. But Rus­sia in­ter­vened to stop the planned of­fen­sive. In Oc­to­ber, it said it agreed to work with Tur­key to re­move all YPG mili­tia “el­e­ments and their weapons” from Tal Ri­faat.

But in early Novem­ber, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said Kur­dish “ter­ror groups” had still not left.

Tal Ri­faat is held by lo­cal Kur­dish fight­ers dis­placed from Afrin, the Ob­ser­va­tory head said, ad­ding that Rus­sian forces and regime troops were also cur­rently de­ployed in­side the town.

Tur­key in Oc­to­ber launched a cross-bor­der oper­a­tion south of its fron­tier against Syr­ian Kur­dish forces.

In the two months since the oper­a­tion be­gan, it has es­tab­lished a so­called “safe zone” in a 120-kilo­me­ter-long strip along the bor­der, where it says it wants to re­set­tle Syr­ian refugees. –

An AFP correspond­ent saw res­cue work­ers carry a wounded man away on a stretcher while a body lay mo­tion­less among spilled or­anges and bags of onions.

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