Amman - The Syrian Civil Defense documented 24 people killed and 35 injured on Monday as a result of the Syrian government’s targeting of northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces with air raids.
Monday’s casualties, which included five women and six children, are just a fraction of those sustained in the last month as the Syrian government continues its aerial and ground campaign against the opposition in northwest Syria.
Ahmad Sheykhu, the spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib, told Syria Direct that government forces have been focusing their recent shelling on southern Idlib, Khan Shaykhun, and the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya.
“The area has been hit by 3,091 air strikes in one month,” Sheykhu said.
“235 people were killed during Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr in Idlib alone, and 635 were injured,” Sheykhu added. “The Civil Defense is continuing to work in the areas being shelled, except on the lines of engagement.”
Syrian government forces have once again escalated their military offensive in northwest Syria after Hay’at Tahreer al-Sham (HTS) and other opposition factions took control of several areas, among them al-Jubeyna and Tal Meleh in northern Hama province.
For its part, the official Syrian News Agency SANA reported on Monday that government forces targeted al-Nusra Front—referring to Hay'at Tahreer al-Sham by its old name, before the organization dissolved and reformed itself—on the outskirts of the villages of Morek and Kafr Zita in northern Hama, in addition to opposition militants and military equipment near the village of Ma’ar Shoreen in southern Idlib.
Captain Naji Mustafa, the official spokesman for the National Liberation Front—an coalition of Free Syrian Army and Islamist rebel groups—told Syria Direct that, “after the regime’s latest campaign in the area and the withdrawal of some of the [rebel] factions from certain sites, such as Kafr Nabudah and Qalaat al-Madiq, a new military tactic has been implemented.”
Mustafa added that “we have started a policy of ‘raiding,’ that is, quickly attacking regime-controlled locations without taking them over. In addition, we opened up new fronts like al-Jubeyna and Tal Meleh and captured these areas.”
During the recent military escalation, the government took control of new territories, including ceasefire areas agreed upon between Ankara and Moscow after the September 2018 Astana talks.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, accused the opposition factions of “provoking them [Russia] at the request of Western countries” during a press conference in Moscow on Monday. Lavrov promised a “harsh response” from the Syrian and Russian forces.
Lavrov also said in a statement in the state-run news agency, Sputnik, that “the situation will be resolved without any concessions,” adding that the Sochi Memo, signed in September 2018 by Turkey and Russia for the purpose of creating a de-escalation zone in Idlib, “does not give any sort of pardon to terrorists.”
Number of IDPs increases day by day
The military campaign against opposition factions and HTS in northwest Syria has displaced “between 2000 to 3000 families per week,” said Mohammed Halaj, the spokesman for the “Response Coordinators,” a local documentation and humanitarian coordination group.
“In the past three months, we’ve documented 500,000 displaced people,” Halaj added. “These sorts of numbers add to the burden on [Syrian] civil society.”
A UN report published in May offered a more conservative estimate of 323,000 people displaced in northwest Syria since September 2018.
According to Halaj, the current displacement crisis is “not a local disaster, but an international disaster that must be dealt with by the international community.”
Towns and villages closest to the front lines in northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces are almost entirely empty of people, except for some farmers and residents who could not afford the cost of the journey outside the affected areas.
“The village is almost empty; most of the residents have been displaced to the border areas, but the remaining farmers are waiting to harvest their land,” said Mohammed al-Shamally, a media activist based in Kafr Aweed, a village in southern Idlib. “There are also some residents who can’t afford the cost of leaving.”
In September of 2018, Moscow and Ankara reached an agreement to create a 15 to 20 kilometer buffer, or de-escalation zone, between government and opposition-controlled areas in Idlib. The agreement aimed to prevent casualties as the Syrian government and its allies geared up to retake Idlib from the opposition.