Idlib village 'burned to ashes' as Syrian regime breaks ceasefire
Syrian regime forces struck villages and towns across Idlib late Monday night, according to local sources who spoke to The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site, in the latest violation of a fragile ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey earlier this month.
Farmland and civilian property in at least six Idlib villages were "burned to ashes" following two rounds of shelling, spaced a few hours apart, local sources said.
A total of 40 rocket attacks were recorded by elements within Syria's civilian defence, according to The New Arab. It cast fresh doubts over the terms of shaky truce signed by the conflict’s two major power brokers – Russian and Turkey - who support opposing sides.
The deal halted a three-month Syrian regime offensive into the country's final rebel stronghold, aided by Russian airpower.
Turkey-backed rebel fighters fought to defend the ever-shrinking opposition territory in the war-ravaged province, as hundreds of civilians were killed and nearly a million people displaced.
The 5 March ceasefire averted the risk of full-blown war between Moscow and Ankara, following direct clashes between the regime and Turkish forces, and marked the beginning of joint patrols around a key highway by the two countries' armies.
Yet the joint Russian-Turkish patrols, seen as a capitulation to Syrian regime demands for control over the M4 which links Aleppo and Damascus, were on Monday cut short over ''security threats'', according to Moscow's defence ministry.
The suspension is the second this month following protests from Syrians in the area, angry that vast areas of opposition territory have been surrendered to the regime under the deal – including entire towns.
Turkey – which is trying to keep the ceasefire alive – said that the patrol had gone ahead as planned, giving no word on suspension.
"Within the framework of the Moscow agreement, the 2nd joint Turkish-Russian land patrol on the M4 highway has been completed with the contribution of air and land assets," the Turkish defence ministry said in a statement, according to Anadolu agency.
In other developments, the Damascus-based regime on Monday announced the first case of the novel coronavirus in the war-torn country, amid activists' fears that a COVID-19 outbreak cover-up is underway.
Parliamentary polls scheduled for next month have been postponed until further notice, while authorities have ordered schools, universities, restaurants, cinemas and events halls to close.
With potentially devastating consequences in areas outside regime control, such as in densely-populated Idlib, which already faces severe shortages of medical supplies and facilities, Syria’s White Helmets have started to sterilise "vital centres and facilities" such as camps, mosques and schools, it said on Twitter.
Read more: Syria Weekly: Activists claim the regime is embarking on a major coronavirus cover-up