Jets pound Syria’s Idlib as battles rage in Aleppo
Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province came under heavy bombardment, as rebels and pro-government forces battled in Aleppo
Syria’s rebel-held, northwestern Idlib province came under heavy bombardment Sunday, activists reported, as rebels and pro-government forces battled for control of the nearby city of Aleppo.
Much of the fighting has been marked by indiscriminate shelling, missile attacks, and aerial bombardment, killing scores of civilians across Idlib and Aleppo. The rebels do not have an air force.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 airstrikes on Sunday across Idlib, one of the last remaining opposition bastions. Observatory head Rami Abdurrahman said Russian and government airstrikes on the province have intensified since rebels launched a campaign from Idlib to break a government siege of Aleppo’s opposition districts on July 31. The strikes have killed 122 civilians, he said.
Violence in Aleppo
Another 327 civilians, including 126 children, have been killed in fighting in Aleppo province, according to the Observatory, which monitors both sides of the conflict and gathers information from a network of activists inside Syria. The toll includes 126 people killed by rebel shelling of government-held parts of Aleppo city.
Heavy fighting took place in different sectors of Aleppo on Sunday as rebels assaulted two government strongholds in the city’s northwest and south, a monitor of the war said.
Fighting for control of Aleppo, split between its government-held west and rebel-held eastern neighborhoods, has intensified in recent weeks causing hundreds of deaths and depriving many civilians of power, water and vital supplies.
Insurgents including Islamist militant groups detonated car bombs before launching an attack on the Jamiat al-Zahraa district, an army base and residential district, the Observatory said.
Rebel groups then attacked the army’s positions in a cement factory on the city’s southwest, adjacent to the mouth of a corridor into opposition-held east Aleppo that insurgents had opened up a week ago, breaking a government siege.
Earlier in the day, the Syrian army and its allies captured some buildings in the southwestern 1070 housing development, also located near the entrance to the rebel corridor into Aleppo.
Aleppo is one of the bastions of the rebellion to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tens of thousands of Syrians displaced from Aleppo have found refuge in Idlib, home to a pre-war population of 1.5 million.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said Russian jets struck the towns of Jisr al-Shaghour and Binnish, while the Observatory reported strikes on the provincial capital, Idlib. It was unclear how the activists identified the planes.
Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, is now the focal point of the civil war and the only major city where the opposition to President Bashar Assad still has a foothold. The rebel campaign, spearheaded by ultraconservative factions including the al-Qaeda-linked Jaish Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, has drawn manpower from Idlib, some 30 kilometers to the west.
A spokesman for the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham faction confirmed that the rebels were drawing recruits from Idlib. “The battle for Aleppo concerns all of Syria,” said Abu Khaled, who gave only his nom de guerre.
At least 97 rebel fighters from Idlib have died in combat in Aleppo since July 31, according to Abdurrahman.
Aleppo is still home to some 2 million people, most of whom live in the government-controlled western districts.
To the east, a Kurdish-led force known as the Syria Democratic Forces drove the ISIS group out of the strategic town of Manbij on Saturday and announced a new campaign against al-Bab, a nearby town held by the extremists. The US has provided the SDF with air cover and American special forces are advising them on the ground.
Moscow has been waging an air campaign in support of government forces for nearly a year. Russia's military said six long-range Tu-22M3 bombers that took off from Russian territory carried out strikes Sunday on ISIS near the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour. It made no mention of any strikes in Idlib.
Clashes in Hama
Elsewhere in Syria, rebels and government forces battled around a major power plant in the central Hama province.
State media reported that rebels inflicted heavy damage to the Zaara generating station, while an opposition media activist in the nearby town of Aqrab said the power plant was not targeted.
Obeida al-Hamawi, of the activist-run Hama Media Center, said government forces had launched an assault from positions near the plant to retake the village of Zaara, captured by rebels earlier this year. He said electricity was still being supplied to the area.
The Observatory reported heavy clashes in the area.
In the south, rockets set two apartment blocks on fire in a besieged, opposition-held suburb of Damascus. The local council in Daraya accused the government of using incendiary weapons, and posted videos showing volunteers transporting water tanks on tractors to help firefighters battle the blaze. The Observatory also reported a government rocket attack on the suburb.
Following an international appeal, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent evacuated a 10-year-old girl from the besieged Damascus suburb of Madaya to receive urgent care after activists say she was shot by a pro-government sniper on Aug. 2.
Syrian state media said “terrorists” shot Ghinwa Qweider and then prevented her evacuation. Amnesty International said the government held up the request for nearly two weeks.
(With AP and Reuters)