At least 35 fighters were killed in 24 hours of clashes between Syrian regime forces and jihadists in northwestern Syria, the scene of renewed violence for several weeks, an NGO said Monday.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian ally have intensified since the end of April their bombings against the province of Idleb and adjacent insurgent territories, areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, ex-Syrian branch of Al- Qaeda) and other jihadist groups.
Between Sunday and Monday, fighting between the regime and jihadists has shaken an area of north-eastern Latakia province, which adjoins the Idleb region, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) .
At least 19 jihadists and 16 pro-regime fighters have been killed, the report said.
The Syrian regime and Russia also conducted air raids Monday in various sectors of the jihadist stronghold, said the Observatory.
Russian attacks on the town of Kafranbel have put a White Helmets center, the civil defense in a rebel zone, out of action, the OSDH reported.
An AFP correspondent was able to see the ground strewn with cinderblocks and rubble. The concrete of the roof collapsed on a construction machine at the broken window.
“Two missiles have hit the center” while the staff had been deployed to a nearby village, on the site of a strike, confirmed to AFP a local rescuer.
For its part, the official Syrian news agency Sana reported one child killed and five people injured in rocket attacks targeting a locality of the regime in neighboring Hama province of Idleb.
– “Dreadful Violence” –
The escalation of recent weeks is the most violent since Moscow, which supports the regime, and Ankara, backing some rebel groups, announced in September 2018 an agreement on a “demilitarized zone” in Idleb.
It had to separate the insurgent territories from the governmental zones and guarantee a cessation of hostilities in this region.
Between the end of April and 9 May, bombings in southern Idleb province and northern Hama drove some 180,000 people to flee. These displaced people have sought refuge in areas further north, according to the UN.
At least 119 civilians were killed in the violence, the OSDH said.
And in just over two weeks, 18 medical facilities have been taken out of service, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Monday.
“Attacks on medical facilities in northwestern Syria continue to wreak havoc among the civilian population,” said Ocha spokesman David Swanson.
“Such violence is appalling, hospitals must remain sanctuaries of neutrality,” he told AFP.
The United Kingdom, Germany and France on Monday called for “stop the military escalation”.
“In recent days, the civilian population of the region has been heavily bombed by the Syrian regime and Russia (…) while (…) other terrorist groups, appointed by the UN, intensified their attacks” said these countries.
“This military escalation must stop,” they said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office.
The Syrian government has not spoken of an offensive against Idleb but the experts do not exclude a limited operation.
HTS leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani on Sunday called for “taking up arms” to defend Idleb, saying in a video that the renewed violence meant “the death of all previous agreements” concerning the region.
Syria has been torn apart since 2011 by a war that left more than 370,000 dead.