Smoke rises from Russian bombing of Idlib city, March 13, 2019


As Idlib Attacked, Will the Astana Group Fail Syria?


The White Helmets civil defense has updated on Wednesday’s Russian attacks on Idlib city, posting photos of rescues of civilians.

The White Helmets said 15 people, including eight children and two women, were killed. Another 49, including seven children and 17 women, were wounded.

Breaking the demilitarized zone which it declared in September, Russia has bombed opposition-held Idlib city in northwest Syria for the first time since last summer.

Moscow’s warplanes carried out four raids on Wednesday. At least 12 people were killed and 49 wounded, according to the White Helmets civil defense. Others were pulled alive from rubble.

Among the targets was Idlib’s prison. Islamic State detainees were reportedly among the detainees who escaped, with dozens soon recaptured.

A pro-opposition activist summarized, “Russia deliberately attacked the prison in a way that enabled the mass escape to increase chaos and to free terrorists — Daesh [Islamic State], regime agents. The attacks in the city destroying several apartment buildings were well-timed.”

Russia and Turkey, which has had forces alongside rebels in northwest Syria since August 2016, announced a 15 to 20-km wide, 100-km long demilitarized zone around Idlib and northern Hama Province last September. The declaration suspended an imminent Russian-Turkish offensive to overrun the last major opposition area in Syria, home to more than three million people — about 20% of the country’s remaining population after eight years of conflict.

But Moscow renewed airstrikes last week, joining Assad regime forces who have escalated shelling and rocketing of northern Hama and southeastern Idlib. The Russians struck near Jisr al-Shughour on Saturday, and then near Talmanah — on the M5 highway between Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus — on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, regime forces have resumed the use of incendiary weapons in their attacks, which killed at least 47 people in a 10-day period in February. On Tuesday, more than 40 rockets dropped thermite on areas such as Ma’arat al-Num’an and Khan Sheikhoun, already reduced to a “ghost town” by the shelling as thousands fled to other parts of Idlib.

Syria Daily: Russian Bombing and Regime Incendiary Attacks on Idlib

Claims are circulating that Turkey is supplying weapons to rebels, not only to resist any Russian-regime offensive but to carry out retaliatory attacks on regime positions. However, Ankara has not issued a public statement in response to the escalation of Russian and regime attacks.

At the last meeting of the leaders of the Astana Group — Russia, Turkey, and Iran — Vladimir Putin said that “terrorists” must be eliminated in northwest Syria.

Syria Daily, Feb 15: Putin Wags Finger Over Opposition Idlib, But No Details of Action