Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev with Syria leader Bashar al-Assad, Damascus, June 20, 2019

UPDATE 1200 GMT: The White Helmets civil defense says another 21 civilians were killed by regime bombing and shelling across Idlib Province on Thursday.

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Among the slain were 9 children, a woman, and 3 paramedics from the Violet Organization (see yesterday’s Syria Daily).

Another 28 people were wounded.

The White Helmets documented attacks on 44 cities and towns with more than 435 rockets and more than 66 airstrikes. More than 20 crop fires were extinguished as the regime tries to choke off food supplies to the estimated 3 million people in Idlib and Northern Hama Provinces.

A man carries a girl away from site of Assad regime attack on Idlib Province in northwest Syria, June 20, 2019

Another four people, including a girl, were killed on Friday by an airstrike on western Aleppo Province.

Syrian State news agency SANA carefully alludes to the Russian-regime offensive, which began on May 6 but has been checked and pushed back by rebels, as “the latest development of the situation in Syria and the Syrian- Russian joint work in relation to these developments, on top of which eradicating terrorism in the areas where it is spread”. It asserted that Lavrentiev “affirmed his country’s continuous support to the Syrian state’s efforts to restore safety and stability over all its territories”.

There was also a general but unenlightening declaration of “the efforts which have been exerted by Moscow and Damascus to activate the political process in parallel with continuing war on terrorism”, and a denunciation of “the increasing pressure exerted by some Western countries on Russia and Syria”.

Russian State media ignores the visit. Instead, TASS headlines a statement from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization calling for international efforts to aid the Assad regime with reconstruction: “There is no alternative to resolving the situation in Syria through dialogue based on ensuring the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

Heavy Losses on Hama Front

The talks came as the Assad regime’s military reportedly suffered heavy losses in an attempt to renew advance in northwest Hama Province.

The May 6 offensive quickly took several towns and villages in northwest Hama Province, but was then checked by Turkish-supported rebels and the Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. A rebel counter-offensive two weeks ago regained some of the lost territory.

Since Wednesday, pro-Assad forces have tried to recapture the key hilltop town of Tal Maleh, which oversees an important road linking regime positions, and the village of Jalmeh.

Heavy losses are reported on both sides. But rebel sources say more than 100 regime troops were killed on Thursday, with more wounded. They also claim a unit of the 5th Army Corps has defected.

Local sources said it was notable that the regime attacks were executed by infantry, with a near-absence of armored vehicles. They attributed this to rebel anti-tank guided missiles controlling the battlefield.

While pursuing the offensive, Russian and Assad forces have bombed and shelled the estimated 3 million people across northern Hama and Idlib Provinces, shattering a demilitarized zone declared by Russia and Turkey last September.

Since late April, about 350 civilians have been killed. An estimated 330,000 have fled their homes, with almost 30 medical centers damaged or destroyed.

See Syria Daily, June 20: Regime Attacks Kill 20 in Northwest