AMMAN: Civil Defense members used heavy machinery to dig for survivors beneath collapsed buildings in Idlib city on Monday amid an intense air campaign targeting major cities in the province that left at least 18 civilians dead over the past 24 hours.
Russian and Syrian state media have made no mention of the intensified air campaign on Idlib province that began targeting large population centers on Saturday evening.
On Monday, an airstrike targeted the Kafr Nabl Surgical Hospital, 35 kilometers south of Idlib’s provincial capital, a hospital spokesman told Syria Direct.
The airstrike “rendered the Kafr Nabl Hospital completely out of service” as warplanes continued to fly above the city into the afternoon, spokesman Mustafa Sheikho told Syria Direct on Monday.
“Fear and sadness filled the city” on Monday as relatives of those killed by airstrikes on Kafr Nabl a day earlier buried their dead, Mustafa al-Qadah, a citizen journalist and resident of the city, told Syria Direct.
Monday’s bombardment came after warplanes launched intense airstrikes on Idlib city Sunday, along with several major towns lying along the Damascus-Aleppo highway near frontline fighting between rebel fighters and pro-government forces.
“The bombing does not stop—day or night,” said Nabeel Muhammad, a 27-year-old Idlib resident and citizen journalist. “People could not sleep last night due to the heavy airstrikes.”
Civil Defense searches for survivors beneath rubble in Idlib city Monday. Photo Courtesy of the Idlib Civil Defense.
In Saraqeb, a city home to an estimated 50,000 people that lies approximately 15 kilometers from the frontlines, government helicopters reportedly dropped two barrel bombs containing chlorine that injured 11 civilians on Sunday evening, Idlib Civil Defense spokesman Abu Majed Qadour told Syria Direct on Monday.
Airstrikes on Idlib city, Maarat a-Numan, Saraqeb and several other towns and cities across central and eastern Idlib province on Sunday left 18 dead and 47 injured, the Idlib Civil Defense reported on Monday.
Citizen journalists and Civil Defense personnel told Syria Direct that bombardment began to intensify after rebels reportedly shot down a Russian SU-25 warplane over Saraqeb on Saturday. The pilot, who ejected near a village close to Saraqeb, was later killed in a fight with rebels, Russian state media outlet TASS reported.
The pilot clashed with rebel forces “until the last moments of his life,” read a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry to TASS. “The pilot blew himself up with a grenade after being heavily injured and surrounded by terrorists,” the statement continued.
Later on Saturday, Russian warplanes targeted rebel positions in eastern Idlib province near the site of the downed plane, TASS reported at the time.
‘Repel the invaders’
Rebels based in eastern Idlib province announced an operations room to drive back government advances in eastern Idlib province on Saturday, Rashid Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebel faction Jaish a-Nasr told Syria Direct on Monday.
The new rebel alliance, dubbed “Repel the Invaders,” consists of seven Idlib-based factions, said Mahmoud, including Ahrar a-Sham and the Free Idlib Army.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies captured a half dozen villages in the eastern Idlib countryside last week, advancing to within 15 kilometers of Saraqeb city at the village of Tal a-Sultan, Syria Direct reported at the time.
A rebel counteroffensive launched over the weekend “recaptured Tal a-Sultan and several other positions” by Sunday evening, said spokesman Mahmoud.
Syria Direct could not independently confirm pro-opposition reports of a successful counteroffensive.