Dozens of people have been killed in air strikes, suspected to be Russian, on the rebel-held Syrian city of Idlib, according to several sources, in what can be the introduction to restart military operations in the province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 26 people were killed and casualties were expected to rise as rescue workers searched for bodies under the rubble.
“Ten civilians, mostly women, are among the dead,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the monitoring group told AFP news agency.
The strikes also wounded scores of people and levelled several multi-storey buildings in residential areas of the northwestern city, according to witnesses, who told Reuters news agency that the extent of the damage and the debris bore the hallmarks of a Russian attack.
The Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held areas, gave a different death toll, saying 15 bodies were pulled from the rubble and that 30 wounded people were taken for treatment.
Video footage by activists on social media showed civilians, including young children, being treated in a main city hospital where the injured had been taken for treatment.
“We are still pulling bodies from the rubble,” Issam al Idlibi, a volunteer civil defence worker, told Reuters.
Idlib : Death toll rises to 23 martyrs and more than 30 injured. and many civilians Still missing under the Rubble.
— Idlib – Whitehelmets (@whitehelmets_sy) February 7, 2017
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) February 7, 2017
25+ civilians killed after regime plane hit civilian area in Idlib city, Civil Defense now pulling victims from rubble pic.twitter.com/uC0GUcbQtw
— FSA News (@FSAPlatform) February 7, 2017
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) February 7, 2017
The observatory said the raids were probably carried out by Russian fighter jets – allied with Syria’s government – or by a US-backed air coalition.
But Russia’s defence ministry said later on Tuesday media reports that its planes had bombed Idlib were not true, Interfax news agency reported.
Russian planes have targeted a number of towns and villages in the area since entering the Syrian conflict in September 2015 to back ally President Bashar al-Assad.
Most recently, At least 73 people have been killed in suspected Russian air strikes on several areas of Idlib province in December marking the highest death toll in long months of massacres.
Idlib, the next aim after Aleppo
By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention – all the while paying lip service to a diplomatic process the US administration pursued to no avail.
The Russian intervention tilted the war in favor of Assad regime and cost the rebels many of their strongholds, making Idlib among the last important pressure point on Assad regime to accept a political solution to end the war.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo and Idlib since the start of this year, and were able in the end to retrieve Aleppo after months of fighting.
More than 40.000 civilians were displaced from Aleppo and sent to Idlib province.
After Aleppo, Idlib will be the next aim, and Assad regime has already started to prepare for the battle with daily bombing and massacres since months. The number of deaths rose sharply in October.
Idlib province is witnessing massacres and random killing by regime and Russian warplanes and Helicopters using missiles, barrel bombs and heavy machine guns, the heavy bombardment started in the 20th of October leading to massive raise in the dead numbers, according to the observatory.
SOHR documented the death of 288 civilians including 93 children and 55 women in the period between 22nd of October until today, by aerial bombardment by Russian and Syrian warplanes, while 1000 others were wounded and seriously wounded or permanently wounded, in addition to massive material damages.
In November, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian forces had begun a “major operation” targeting Idlib and Homs provinces.
As the international media focus on the military operations in Aleppo only, Russia and al-Assad regime are committing massacres against civilians in Idlib after the arrival of thousands of migrants who were forced to leave rural Damascus areas and Homs into Idlib province.
According to analysts, the regime is trying to gather the rebels in Idlib, making it easy to fight them all fiercely in one place under the term of fighting terrorism. The fierce campaign may take long, but analysts say it will succeed eventually as happened in Aleppo if the global powers didn’t take any real steps to stop it.
As a conclusion, defeating the rebels and retrieving Aleppo means destroying the last major resistance stronghold of the Syrian rebels and will lead eventually to the victory of Assad regime and ending the Syrian revolution.