Suspected Russian airstrikes pound Idlib as regime prepares for Maaret al-Numan assault

Suspected Russian airstrikes pound Idlib as regime prepares for Maaret al-Numan assault
A civilian defence force volunteer was killed and two others injured, as Syrian regime forces and their Russian allies edge closer to their decisive strategic goal - capturing Maaret al-Numan.
3 min read
28 January, 2020
The volunteers were targeted as they rushed to the site of an earlier strike [Getty]
A volunteer for the White Helmets civillian defence force was among several civilians killed on Monday evening as Russian airstrikes battered towns and villages across northeastern Syria, the country's last rebellion stronghold.

A source from the White Helmets told The New Arab's Arabic-language website that Russian warplanes targeted the emergency response group as they rushed to investigate the aftermath an earlier airstrike.

A volunteer, Othman al-Othman, was killed instantly and two others, Hussain Bahseek and Ahmad Badawi, were injured in the attack on the village of Serjah, in Southern Idlib.

Two men were killed after Shinan, another town south of Idlib, was shelled by Russian forces.

A similar raid on the village of Tell Mardikh claimed the life of a woman and child.

Late on Monday, sources who spoke to The New Arab also reported a 'significant' deployment of Turkish troops to a new millitary post in Idlib, complete with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery.

According to the source, it is the third time Ankara has sent a convoy to Idlib in January, where it has 13 millitary observation posts dotted around a purported "de-escalatory zone", with the aim of protecting opposition fighters.

Despite the presence of the buffer zone, the Syrian regime and its Russian allies have continued their advance into Idlib, which has seen 358 000 civillians displaced in recent weeks, according to the United Nations estimates. 

The region is hosts at least three million people, a large proportion of whom have arrived fleeing other parts of the country, which remain securely in regime hands.

Between Monday and Tuesday, Syria's response coordination group reported 5000 families had fled civillian areas the deserted city of Maaret al-Numan, which regime forces are now on cusp of breaching.

Maaret al-Numan lies on the strategic M5 highway linking the Syrian capital, Damascus, to Allepo and was a focal point of demonstations against Bashar al-Assad's rule, when protests began in 2011.

Read more: Thousands flee as regime cuts of Maarat al-Numan

Only a few thousand remain in the city after most of its 110 000 inhabitants fled last month. A devastating assault of barrel bombs, missiles and shelling have laid waste to the city's homes and infrastructure.

"Marat al-Numan is completely destroyed and its population has been displaced and is living in uncertainty" a White Helmets volunteer, who did not want to be identified, told Aljazeera. 

Earlier this month, Russia declared a ceasefire, only to break it days after. 

Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman and founder of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a London-based human rights monitor,  said that at least 72 people had been killed in Idlib alone since the ceasefire, declared on 12 January. 

Thousands of residents of Idlib's towns and villages north of Maarat al-Numan, such as Saraqeb and Ariha, have started to flee to areas close to the Turkish border, according an AFP correspondent

Turkey, which is key backer of some rebel groups opposed to Assad, is already host to over 3.5 million Syria refugee and fears million more could soon cross the border.

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