More airstrikes slam Idlib province as residents ‘run to countryside for cover’

AMMAN: Russia and the Syrian regime carried out dozens more airstrikes across Idlib on Tuesday and Wednesday as opposition forces continued their ground assaults on two encircled loyalist towns in the province, activists and a Civil Defense spokesman on the ground told Syria Direct.

The heavy wave of airstrikes across the rebel-held northwest province continued for the fourth day on Wednesday. Over the past four days, the bombings have killed a total of at least 130 people, Civil Defense-Idlib spokesman Abd al-Hamid al-Quteini told Syria Direct. This past Sunday, regime and Russian warplanes escalated airstrikes across several towns and cities in Idlib, including the provincial capital.

Wednesday’s attacks come one day after an airstrike reportedly hit a crowded local marketplace in the town of Sarmeen, just 7km south of Idlib city, killing at least eight people. Reporters from the pro-opposition Syrian Revolutionary Network filmed the aftermath of the strike, where victims—including several young children—lay scattered along a busy street alongside torn store fronts. 

Heavy cloud cover over much of Idlib province on Wednesday held off some of the warplanes, Mohammad a-Shahhoud, a citizen journalist in Idlib city, told Syria Direct.

“We are a little bit less afraid today, but I still don’t feel safe,” a-Shouhhoud said. “The airstrikes are ongoing.”

Syrian regime warplanes reportedly dropped a barrel bomb over farmland outside Khan Sheikhoun, a town 50km south of the provincial capital Wednesday, killing at least one child, local media outlet Khan Sheikhoun Media Center reported.

Nearby, clouds of dust rose over olive groves after a reported cluster bomb attack Wednesday in Jabal a-Zawiyah, a hilly area of farmland just 18km south of Idlib city.

 After a reported airstrike in Idlib city Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Maara Media Center.

Shortly afterward, two missiles rammed into an apartment block in Maarat a-Numan. An iron door frame stood amid the rubble as men in Civil Defense uniforms searched for survivors in a video shared Wednesday by Baladi News, a pro-opposition news site.

Attacks continued through Wednesday afternoon and early evening, with deadly airstrikes targeting the town of Binnish, as well as Idlib city, local opposition news outlet Maara Media Center reported.

“Right now, there are dozens of people killed,” Mohammad a-Shahhoud, the Idlib citizen journalist, told Syria Direct. “There’s no way for us to know the exact number, since the airstrikes are sporadic and still continuing.”

With no available bomb shelters and fearing further airstrikes on their homes, residents “ran into the surrounding countryside” for cover as the airstrikes continued Tuesday and Wednesday, Ali Khosson, an activist from Jabal a-Zawiyah, told Syria Direct.

“Whenever there is a bombing in my area, the residents—including my own family—run outside of their homes and take shelter in wide open fields, because the bombings often target civilian homes,” he said.

 After an airstrike in Maarat a-Numan Dec. 7. Photo courtesy Maara Media Center.

“Most people simply go out into their farms in the morning, hide under olive trees all day, then return to their houses in the evening.”

Schools remained shuttered for a third day Wednesday, after the Idlib Education Directorate announced on Sunday it would close all school activities in the province for fear of airstrikes.

Wednesday’s onslaught comes as opposition forces continued a ground assault on the besieged, pro-regime towns of Kufraya and al-Fuaa, located just 5km northeast of rebel bastion Idlib city.

The two Shiite-majority towns found themselves encircled and besieged by rebel forces in March 2015, after the Victory Army coalition swept through and captured Idlib province. Opposition militias often bomb the two adjacent towns, now under a nearly two-year blockade, in retaliation for regime attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere.

A ceasefire agreement connects Kufraya and al-Fuaa to the regime-encircled Outer Damascus towns of Madaya and Zabadani, yet the accord is increasingly failing to stave off violence.

On Wednesday morning, rebel Fatah Halab and Failaq a-Sham fighters loaded and fired rockets toward Kufraya and al-Fuaa in videos posted online, in “response to the [regime] massacres in Aleppo, Idlib, Maarat al-Numan and Kafr Nubl.”

On Tuesday, Jaysh al-Fatah rocket shells struck and shut down al-Fuaa’s “only hospital,” killing five people, Syrian state media network SANA reported.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Ahmad al-Majareesh

Ahmad was studying Arabic Literature at Damascus University when the war intensified in 2012. Originally from Daraa, Ahmad wants to write about people in his home province.

Dima al-Dimashqi

Dima grew up in Old Damascus before moving to Egypt to finish her degree in Islamic Law. She joined the Syria Direct training program because she believes quality journalism can contribute to the rebuilding of her country.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.