The Syrian army is launching “intensive strikes on dens of Jabhat al-Nusra,” a group formerly affiliated with al Qaeda, in a village in southwestern Idlib province Sunday, Syrian state media is reporting.
The escalation in violence in Syria’s last rebel-held province in recent weeks has prompted the displacement of more than 180,000 people in the territory and killed more than 120 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Three hospitals were bombed on Saturday in Syria’s northwestern Idlib and Hama, bringing the total to 16 in the past two weeks alone, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) said Saturday.
But SANA, the country’s state-run news agency, stated Saturday that the army’s operations destroyed multiple sites purportedly belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra in the southern Idlib countryside.
The army killed and injured “a number of terrorists who had breached the de-escalation zone agreement through repeated attacks on military points and safe towns,” SANA reported.
The international community has frequently accused the Syrian government of indiscriminate bombing in its fight against rebels since the start of the country’s civil war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to have died in government offensives.
According to UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), there has been a heavy escalation of shelling and barrel bombs targeting Hama and Idlib in the last few days.
SOHR also reports that against the backdrop of the heavy bombing, Jabhat al-Nusra are worsening the situation for displaced civilians by preventing them from putting up tents.
The UN announced Friday that since April 28 fighting has escalated between government forces and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in northwest Syria.
The organization noted that on May 8, Syrian forces began ground operations against NSAGs “impacting on civilian populations, infrastructure and service provision in northern Hama and southern Idleb governorates.”
The White Helmets volunteer rescue group, known as the Syria Civil Defense, has since stated that escalating attacks have led to numerous deaths and injuries among civilians.
“Another 12 civilians were killed today; more stories and hopes were left behind,” the group tweeted Saturday. “More than 40 people were injured in brutal bombing by Russian and regime jets for the 14th day in a row on #Idlib and #Hama.”
The United Nations Security Council was briefed Friday on the worsening situation in northwest Syria. 11 out of its 15 members – including the US, France and Britain – jointly condemned the killing of civilians in the region and warned of a potential humanitarian disaster.
“We are alarmed by the displacement of over 150,000 persons as well as the targeting of population centers and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools,” Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, Belgium’s ambassador to the UN, said following the meeting.
The bombardment on Idlib, which is being supported by Russia, was also condemned by Turkey, which previously signed an agreement with Russia to create a demilitarized zone in the province.
“Humanitarian problems grow each day and it is increasingly showing a tendency to turn into a catastrophe,” said Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defense minister, according to the state-owned Anadolu Agency.
“We expect Russia to take effective and determined measures to make regime forces stop their attacks on the south of Idlib and immediately return to the borders set by the Astana agreement.”