Shelling targeting hospital kills 16 in Syria's Afrin: monitor
Shelling of the rebel-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 16 people on Saturday, many of them when a hospital was struck, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital in the city which is held by Turkish-backed rebels.
However, the governor’s office of Turkey’s Hatay province, which lies across the border from Afrin, said 13 civilians had been killed and 27 injured in the rocket and artillery attack on the hospital, which it blamed on Kurdish militants.
The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed, the Britain-based group said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.
Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin in 2018 in a military operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin terrorists. Since then, there has been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area.
Meanwhile violence escalated in Idlib on Saturday with at least one reported dead and four civilians, including children, wounded due to Russian air raids, according to a report by The New Arab’s Arabic-language service Al Araby Al Jadeed.
Syrian opposition factions responded to the attacks by bombing the positions of regime forces in the city of Kafr Nabl and Kafrouma, south of Idlib.
Violence in the city has forced the displacement of more than 1,867 people in the last two days alone, according to a local responders group.
In a statement, the organisation documented more than 74 air and ground attacks targeting residential villages and neighbourhoods, calling on authorities to halt violations against civilians.
It also called on humanitarian organisations to assist the newly displaced and provide them with all necessary support.
The team stressed that the escalation represents a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement signed between Russia and Turkey.
Regime forces have in the past week launched a series of strikes on the Jabal Al-Zawiya area in violation of a March 2020 ceasefire agreement between Turkey, which supports the Syrian rebels, and Russia, which backs the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
On Thursday, Syrian regime artillery strikes on southern Idlib province killed at least ten people and injured eleven others, including Abu Khaled al-Shami, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist Hayaat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) group which dominates the rebel-held province.
Initial shelling hit a car in the village of Iblin in the Jabal al-Zawiya area of rebel-held Idlib province, 25 kilometres southwest of Idlib city, killing a mother and her infant child according to the the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Along with Abu Khaled Al-Shami, a media coordinator for HTS known as Abu Musab, was also killed.
Later reports indicated that Moataz Al-Nasser, an HTS security commander, was also among the dead.
A statement from a local HTS affiliate group known as the Popular Resistance Companies (Saraya al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya) confirmed the death of Al-Shami, calling him a martyr and offering his family condolences.
Syrian rebels say the regime's escalation is part of an attempt by Russia to put pressure on Turkey ahead of negotiations on the war due to be held in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana, at the end of June.
The escalation has also been linked to Russian attempts to close a border crossing between Turkey and Syria which millions of people depend on for aid.
More than three million people live in rebel-held northwestern Syria, half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
The conflict in Syria has killed over 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations by the Assad regime.