An ambulance damaged by a Russia-regime attack on the Kafranbel medical facility in Idlib Province, May 5, 2019
UPDATE, 1145 GMT:
Graphic video has been posted, by a local citizen journalist, of civilians buried in rubble.
The footage is from the village of Maara_Haramah in Idlib Province after it was bombed this morning.
The journalist asks, “Why does no one hear us and help us?”
Russia and the Assad regime have begun their offensive to overrun the last major opposition territory in Syria, in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces in the northwest.
The latest, week-long escalation in regime shelling and Russian airstrikes has turned into the first stage of a ground assault, with an attempt to take territory in northern Hama.
At least 35 people have been killed and 89 wounded since last Tuesday by the attacks on civilian sites. Tens of thousands have been displaced, bringing the total to at least 323,000 since last September — when Russia and Turkey announced a “demilitarized zone” covering the last major opposition area in Syria.
At least five medical facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the past 72 hours, including the destruction of the Hass underground hospital by a Russian “bunker-buster” bomb.
Ahmad Sheykho, media director of the White Helmets civil defense, said, “There have been more than 900 instances of artillery shelling, barrel bombs, and missile strikes since the beginning of this latest campaign.”
Rebels responded on Monday with the firing of rockets on Russia’s main airbase in Syria.
#Syria: in the early morning #Russia|n Airbase in #Kheimimim was again targeted by weaponized drones launched by Rebels. Video shows air defenses responding. Such attacks to increase following (Russian-backed) Regime Offensive on Greater #Idlib. pic.twitter.com/8XLAG1vx7u
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 6, 2019
The Russian military and State outlets immediately used the event to set up the offensive, “Russia’s Khmeimim airbase shelled by DOZENS of rockets, attack repelled”.
The head of the Russian “Center for Reconciliation”, Maj. Gen. Viktor Kupchishin, said 36 rockets were fired in two attacks. He claimed a drone was used to direct the fire from multiple launch rocket systems.
Kupchishin then said rebel positions were “flattened” by Russian warplanes and regime artillery.
Without acknowledging Russian airstrikes, Russian State outlet RT effectively announced the breaking of the 15 to 20-km demilitarized zone around Idlib and northern Hama.
Syrian forces carried out their largest offensive so far this year against the last major militant stronghold in the country. The operation saw the village of al-Bani and the nearby strategic Othman hill in northwestern Hama Province retaken by Damascus.
Pro-opposition activists confirmed the attacks by regime troops, probably with support from Russian “private” military contractors. They said dozens were killed or wounded on both sides, with most of the seized territory remaining in regime control.
#Syria: not the sun, but aftermath of #Russia|n night airstrike. After infiltration attempt today on Qalaat Mudiq front (N. #Hama) & 1st real clashes, Offensive becomes more likely. Next 72 hours will be crucial. pic.twitter.com/jndx6hF2ek
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 3, 2019
Rebels expect the first stage of the offensive will try and seize territory around the M4 and M5 highways, which connect Syria’s largest city Aleppo with Hama and with Latakia on the Mediterranean.
Turkey, whose forces have been alongside rebels in the northwest since August 2016, has yet to issue any statement about the Russian-regime assault despite the dissolution of the de-militarized zone.
Two Turkish soldiers were wounded by regime shelling of one of 12 Turkish observation posts last weekend.
The start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began for two families with attacks by the Regime in #Arnaba and Rebie Aljwar in western #Idlib. A family in each of these cities were massacred while they slept. 8 civilians were murdered including two children and two women. #Syria pic.twitter.com/Dy24l7AoWG
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) May 6, 2019