Damascus pounds militant bastion, ignoring Trump warning

Damascus pounds militant bastion, ignoring Trump warning

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) carry a wounded man on a stretcher
Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) carry a wounded man on a stretcher after a reported air strike Maaret al-Numan in the militant-held Idlib province as others flee the scene. (Photo: AFP/Abdulaziz Ketaz)

MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria: Bombardments by the Syrian regime killed six civilians in northwest Syria on Monday (Jun 3), hours after US President Donald Trump urged Damascus and its allies to "stop bombing the hell" out of the militant-held region.

Trump's call came after US ally Israel carried out a series of strikes against Syria at the weekend, leaving at least 15 dead among pro-government forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The bombardment by Damascus and its ally Moscow of Idlib province and neighbouring areas has killed more than 300 people since late April, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor.

It also displaced nearly 270,000 people in May alone, according to the UN.

The violence, which comes despite a truce deal brokered by Russia and Turkey in September, has raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale yet unseen in Syria's eight-year conflict, which has already claimed more than 370,000 lives.

Smoke plumes rise up after reported airstrikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in the southern
Smoke plumes rise up after reported airstrikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in the southern countryside of rebel-held Idlib. (Photo: AFP/Anas Al-Dyab)

The Kremlin insisted Monday that the Russian army was only targeting "terrorists" in Syria's Idlib region, which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by former members of Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate.

It accused them of firing at civilians and Moscow's troops.

"Terrorist fire in Idlib is of course unacceptable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Measures are being taken to neutralise such firing positions."

The comments came in response to a tweet by Trump on Sunday calling for an end to the bombing on the militant-dominated enclave, a large area which is home to almost three million people.

"Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians.

"The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!" the US president said.

'INDISCRIMINATE WEAPONS'

But the aerial bombardment on Monday was unrelenting.

The Observatory said at least four civilians were killed in regime strikes on the town of Maaret al-Numan.

Another civilian was killed in the nearby town of Heish, while a sixth was killed by rocket fire on a village in the neighbouring province of Hama, it said.

White Helmets rescuers dig out a wounded man from under the rubble after an air strike on the town
White Helmets rescuers dig out a wounded man from under the rubble after an air strike on the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province. (Photo: AFP/Abdulaziz Ketaz)

Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the Syrian regime and Russia of using "internationally banned and other indiscriminate weapons in unlawful attacks on civilians in northwest Syria in recent weeks."

It said they "used banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons ... along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including 'barrel bombs'."

A total of 24 health facilities and 35 schools have been hit in the latest escalation, according to the UN's humanitarian office.

Analysts predict that President Bashar al-Assad and his allies will continue to chip away at the area, but not unleash a major assault that would create chaos on Turkey's doorstep.

In recent weeks, militants and pro-government have engaged in fierce battles over positions on the fringes of the enclave.

On Monday, clashes between militants and pro-government fighters killed dozens of combatants in southern Idlib and parts of Latakia.

ISRAELI STRIKES

The latest violence in Syria's militant-held northwest comes amid soaring tensions between Syria and neighbouring Israel.

Syria accused Israel of targeting an airbase in Homs province overnight, reportedly killing five people, just hours after carrying out raids on military and intelligence posts south of Damascus that killed 10.

"Our air defences thwarted an Israeli aggression and destroyed two of the rockets that targeted the T-4 airbase," a military source told state news agency SANA.

The remaining rockets "killed one soldier, wounded two others, and damaged an arms warehouse," the source added.

The Observatory reported five killed, including one Syrian soldier, adding that a rocket warehouse was destroyed.

In addition to the Syrian army, Iranian fighters and Hezbollah paramilitary forces are also stationed at the airbase, according to the monitor.

Israeli soldiers manoeuver a Merkava tank in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights
Israeli soldiers manoeuver a Merkava tank in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. (Photo: AFP/Jalaa Marey)

Israel did not claim the attack.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army told AFP: "We do not comment on foreign reports."

But hours earlier, Israel said it had carried out strikes in the province of Quneitra.

It said that attack was in response to rare rocket fire from its neighbour late Saturday.

The Observatory said 10 people were killed, including Syrian soldiers and foreign fighters.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

The country says it is determined to prevent its arch foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where Tehran backs Assad in the country's war.

Source: AFP/ec

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