Caves and buses: Idlib chaos forces displaced Syrians into strange dwellings

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Inside a rusty, abandoned bus, Umm Joumaa washes a silver tray and glass teacups with light pouring into her makeshift kitchen through broken windows. She is one of the 400,000 Syrians who have been displaced by violence in Idlib since the end of April.

Syrian troops shelled the south of Idlib on Sunday, according to rescuers and residents in the opposition stronghold where a ceasefire had halted a fierce army offensive two weeks ago.

Artillery fire battered Maarat al-Numan town and nearby villages in the south Idlib countryside over the past two days, after warplanes struck there on Thursday.

An opposition official said fighters were on high alert and had reinforced the frontlines. “We are responding directly by targeting the positions from where the shells are fired,” said Naji Mustafa of the National Liberation Front insurgent force.

Syria’s northwest corner, including the Idlib region, is the last major chunk of territory still in opposition hands after more than eight years of war.

The ceasefire Damascus declared on Aug. 31 brought a lull in air strikes, after a five-month offensive which the United Nations says killed hundreds of people.

In early August, another ceasefire had collapsed within three days, after which the army pressed its offensive and advanced along a main highway.

The Civil Defense, rescue workers operating in opposition territory, said artillery shelling on Idlib villages killed seven people since Friday.