AMMAN: Regime airstrikes have killed more than 70 people across rebel-held Idlib province over the past two days, sources on the ground tell Syria Direct, as retaliatory rebel shelling injured dozens of people in four loyalist towns.
Russian and/or regime warplanes struck a handful of towns in Idlib province on Monday, including the provincial capital, killing at least eight people. At least one Idlib medical center closed on Monday following the bombings.
Monday’s attacks came one day after 65 people were killed and 124 others injured in reported regime airstrikes on the neighboring south Idlib towns of Kafr Nubl and Maarat a-Numan. Three other Idlib towns were bombed the same day.
Four air raids with vacuum missiles targeted Kafr Nubl on Sunday morning, hitting “residential areas, shops and a health center in the city,” Civil Defense spokesman Obadah al-Yusuf told Syria Direct on Sunday.
Rebel shelling of al-Fuaa on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Resistance Media.
A few hours later on Sunday, a single missile slammed into a crowded public market in Maarat a-Numan, roughly 7km northeast of Kafr Nubl, reportedly killing 39 people, including six members of a single family.
Russian state media did not report airstrikes in Idlib province on Monday or Sunday. State-funded news agency Russia Today reported airstrikes by unidentified warplanes on Idlib city and other towns on Monday.
On Sunday, Syrian state media agency SANA reported that “Syrian warplanes killed at least 50 terrorists” in Idlib and Hama.
“The death toll could go up,” said al-Yusuf, “because dozens of people are critically wounded.” On Monday, Civil Defense teams were still digging out civilians, recovering bodies and putting out fires in the Idlib towns, he told Syria Direct.
Pictures and graphic videos from the scene of Sunday’s airstrikes in Maarat a-Numan and Kafr Nubl, located roughly 7km apart, show towns ripped apart. A woman sits on the ground in Maarat a-Numan, cradling a young boy—either badly injured or dead—and strokes his face. At a destroyed vegetable stand in Kafr Nubl, blood mixes with pomegranates, oranges and beets.
A similar scenario played out in the neighboring Idlib towns this past April, with public areas in both Kafr Nubl and Maarat a-Numan bombed in quick succession, killing 11 people, pro-opposition Enab Baladi reported at the time.
Kafr Nubl on Dec. 4. Photo courtesy of MMC.
“People are scared the planes will come back,” said Maarat activist Musaab al-Azou. Al-Azou was on the scene of the market bombing the day before. “Planes are in the sky,” he told Syria Direct on Monday, “so people have closed the shops and are staying inside their homes and shelters.”
The Idlib Education Directorate suspended operations at all schools in the province from Monday until the end of the week in response to what it called “barbaric bombings.”
‘We didn’t attack anybody’
Sunday’s airstrikes came as rebels escalated their ground bombardment of four Shiite-majority loyalist towns: the twin towns of Nubl and Zahraa, 20km north of Aleppo city, and blockaded Al-Fuaa and Kefraya, 5km northeast of Idlib city.
Rebel factions regularly bomb all four towns in retaliation for regime attacks or advances elsewhere. Opposition forces blockaded Nubl and Zahraa for three and a half years before Syrian regime forces broke through this past February. In Idlib, Al-Fuaa and Kufraya have been besieged and bombarded by rebels since March 2015, when the towns found themselves trapped behind enemy lines after the Jaysh al-Fatah rebel coalition swept through and captured the province.
Syrian rebel factions Failaq a-Sham and Jaish al-Islam posted videos and pictures on Sunday and Monday of their personnel using rocket launchers to target “Assad’s gangs” in Nubl and Zahraa “in response to the massacres committed” by Syrian, Russian and Iranian forces.
A video posted online by Idlib rebels on Sunday shows them loading a rocket launcher to “target the Iranian militias in al-Fuaa and Kufraya in response to the massacres of our besieged people in Aleppo.”
A rebel vehicle shells Nubl and Zahraa (far left, in the distance) on Monday. Photo courtesy of Failaq a-Sham.
Whether in response to massive civilian casualties in Idlib on Sunday or to ongoing regime victories in its offensive against rebels in Aleppo city, opposition bombardment of the four towns in recent days injured dozens of people and badly damaged buildings.
On Sunday, “missile attacks by terrorist groups” injured 10 people in Nubl and Zahraa, SANA reported. A video posted online by the agency shows gaping holes in buildings, cinderblocks in the street and shattered windows.
The same day, 20 people were wounded in al-Fuaa by rebel bombings, Jamal Faour, a resident of the town who helps run a local news page on Facebook told Syria Direct on Monday. He estimated that “120 rockets” struck the perimeter of the two towns on Sunday, exacting “significant damage to civilian property, homes and shops.”
“This is not the first time we have been bombed,” said Faour. “There’s been bombing and sniper attacks for ages,” he added.
While a standing ceasefire agreement connects al-Fuaa and Kufraya in Idlib to the regime-besieged towns of Madaya and Zabadani in Outer Damascus, the deal does little to mitigate attacks, according to Faour. “The agreement is a total joke,” he said.
Some of the rebels currently bombing al-Fuaa and Kufraya are based out of Binnish, a town immediately to the east that was reportedly struck by one of Monday’s pro-regime airstrikes.
Rebel bombardment of the four loyalist towns preceded Sunday’s regime bombings of Idlib province. In recent weeks, the towns have been bombed in retaliation for major regime advances elsewhere, most recently in Aleppo city.
“We are blameless,” said Faour, a resident of one of the loyalist towns currently being bombarded. “We didn’t attack anybody.”