Amman- Rocket fire killed four civilians and injured 20 others in the city center of Saraqib, southeast of Idlib, in a new escalation by government forces in response to a military operation launched by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
The rate of bombing by Syrian government forces on northwest Syria increased after Hayat Tahrir al-Sham launched its attacks on Tuesday evening, seizing control a number of areas within the de-escalation zone agreed upon by Moscow and Ankara.
Late on Tuesday, aircraft targeted the market in Maarat a-Numan, south of Idlib, killing nine civilians and wounding others, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, or White Helmets.
In the most recent attacks, the rebels took control of the town of Kafranbuda in the northern Hama countryside, amid continuing clashes with government forces in the area.
Nasr al-Akel, a member of the media office of the National Liberation Front, a coalition of Free Syrian Army and Islamist factions, told Syria Direct that “we have retaken Kafranbuda, and in doing so also captured a regime commander, who holds the rank of colonel.”
Akel added that “the clashes are currently on the Karakat and Tal Huwash axis,” an area that was taken over by government forces during recent military operations.
Syrian pro-regime media acknowledged the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from Kafranbuda and called upon army leadership work to return the commander, who has been named as Colonel Hassan Habib.
Earlier this month, the Syrian Army took control of a number of areas in the northern Hama countryside, including Qalaa al-Madiq, Kafranbuda, Tel-Huwash and others, as part of a military escalation that has led to a massive wave of civilian displacement.
Syrian rebel groups blamed the regime and Russia for the failure of the Ankara-Moscow agreement, which was made last September. The agreement entailed the establishment of a 15-20 kilometer buffer zone around Idlib and parts of the provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.
“The objective of the attack is to recover what we lost and gain new control over new areas as well,” Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the National Liberation Front (NFL), told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
“Russia has not adhered to any agreement in the past. They broke the Astana agreement,” he added.
Following the military escalation over the last several hours and due to the high number of casualties in the bombing of Maarat a-Numan, the Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib warned against public gatherings and called for an evacuation of the market in order to minimize further civilian casualties.
“At the moment the market was bombed, there was a large number of people there. Everyone was buying things to prepare for Eid,” Ahmed al-Aboud, 30, from Maarat a-Numan, told Syria Direct.
Aboud told Syria Direct he was standing about 200 meters from the location of the bombing, at Zahra’ Square. After the bombing, he ran towards the site, which he described as “heart-wrenching.”
“You find pieces scattered here and there. Bits and pieces mixed with blood,” he said.
Since the recent assault on the rebel positions was announced, the Syrian Civil Defense has documented the impact of 60 rockets and 70 shells in different areas in the southern countryside of Idlib, according to Ahmad al-Sheikhu, spokesman for the Civil Defense in Idlib, told Syria Direct.
“Since the early morning, Russian planes have not stopped flying over Idlib. They have fired more than 50 rockets in towns south of Idlib,” Sheikhu said.
“The town of Habit alone was hit with 40 rockets,” Sheikhu told Syria Direct.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 562 civilians, including 153 children and 122 women, have been killed so far within the borders of the agreed-upon safe zone as a result of bombardment by government forces and pro-government militias.