Air strikes hit the edges of Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold west of Aleppo on Sunday, a monitor said, a day after an alleged toxic attack on the regime-held city.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said regime ally Russia “likely” carried out the air strikes on a planned buffer zone around the opposition bastion of Idlib.
They were the first to hit the area since Moscow and insurgent backer Ankara agreed to set up the demilitarized area around Idlib in September to prevent a massive regime attack to retake the area.
The attack came after Russia seemed to accuse Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate, of carrying out Saturday’s chemical attack on Aleppo city.
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said “terrorist groups” in an area of buffer zone held by HTS fired shells filled with chlorine on a residential area of the city.
The Observatory said the attack left around 100 struggling to breathe, though more than half had been discharged by Sunday morning.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported “107 cases of breathing difficulties”.
A rebel alliance denied any involvement, but HTS did not immediately issue a statement.
The September 17 deal was intended to protect three million inhabitants in the Idlib region, more than half of which is held by HTS.
But its implementation has stalled after extremists including HTS failed to withdraw from the planned buffer zone by a mid-October deadline.
Syria’s regime has insisted that the buffer zone deal is temporary and that Idlib will eventually revert to government control.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Also on Saturday, government shelling killed nine people in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib, a monitor said, and state media said insurgent shells wounded dozens in Aleppo causing breathing problems.
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