As political conference opens in southern Russia, Russians and regime bomb opposition territory


UPDATE 1545 GMT: The local council of Saraqeb in Idlib Province has declared the town a disaster zone amid the ongoing bombing by pro-Assad forces:

The warplanes of the Russian occupier and the criminal regime are bombing the city at an unprecedented rate. They are hitting defenseless civilians who are trying to shelter at home. They are destroying people, trees, stones, and everything alive in this city.

More than 20 airstrikes were recorded today. An attack on a potato market killed 11 people and injured dozens. Russian warplanes then reportedly hit the town’s only hospital as it treated the victims.

The bombing of the Oday Hospital severely injured two medical staff and caused extensive damage, forcing a complete cessation of services. Patients were transferred to hospitals in Idlib city, about 20 km (12.5 miles) northwest of Saraqeb.

Another attack demolished a residential building and killied five members of the same family, a woman and her four daughters.

Graphic video has been posted.

More than 80 airstrikes have been reported by residents since Sunday morning.

Most residents of Saraqeb, with about 35,000 residents and 12,000 displaced persons, have fled their homes. Muthana al-Muhammad, president of the local council, said they are now staying “in tents on the city’s outskirts, on the main roads and under the trees”.

The displaced Saraqeb residents join an estimated 200,000 already displaced from their homes in Idlib and parts of nearby Hama and Aleppo provinces since pro-government forces launched an offensive on the area in mid-December, according to a January 19 UN statement. The offensive began despite Idlib’s designation as a “de-escalation zone” in deal brokered by Russia and Iran last May.

SARAQEB 29-01-18

Pro-Assad forces stepped up bombing, including incendiary attacks, on both Idlib Province in northwest Syria and the East Ghouta area near Damascus on Sunday, killing and wounding scores of civilians.

In Idlib, Russian and regime warplanes hit towns across the province, reportedly slaying 18 people and injuring 45. Seven people, including a pregnant woman and three children, were killed and more than 10 wounded in the town of Maarat al-Num’an. Five were slain in Saraqeb.

Observers assessed that Russia was punishing civilians for the opposition’s refusal to attend Moscow’s long-delayed talks for a “national congress”, scheduled to begin in the southern Russia city of Sochi on Monday.

Despite a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow last week, the opposition High Negotiations Committee concluded that the Sochi gathering is an attempt to sideline the UN-backed Geneva process. They also chided Russia for its failure to exert influence over the Assad regime, including for the cessation of bombing and sieges.

Sunday’s pro-Assad strikes on East Ghouta were spurred by the launch of a third phase of rebel attacks on a key regime base near Harasta.

Citing the Military Vehicles Management Base as a site for the regime’s rocketing and shelling of opposition territory, the rebels assaulted the complex in late November and again last month. Scores of regime troops, including several generals and colonels, have been killed.

The retaliatory airstrikes on Harasta including incendiary munitions which caused intense fires. The White Helmets said at least 18 people were injured.

On Friday, Russia announced an agreement with rebels for a ceasefire across East Ghouta, only for regime forces to carry out attacks hours later.

Russia Finally Opens Its “National Congress” Meeting, But With No Opposition Present

Russia has finally convened its long-delayed meeting for a Syrian “national congress”, but without the presence of the opposition.

The meeting was opened in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Monday. Russian State media said more than 1,500 delegates were invited. They did not say how many were present today.

The UN envoy Staffan de Mistura finally said last weekend that he would attend, despite concerns that Russia is pursuing a process to overshadow the UN-supported Geneva political talks.

Moscow first proposed the congress last autumn but it was held up by a series of political complications, such as Turkey’s objection to the presence of Syrian Kurdish factions such as the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD). Last week the opposition High Negotiations Committee, after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, said it would not attend.

Russia’s draft statement for the gathering proclaims “respect of and full commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

Russian State media is declaring that UN envoy de Mistura will head a Constitutional commission that will be set up at the conference.