An elderly woman awaits evacuation from Ma’arat al-Num’an in northwest Syria, devastated by Russian-regime assaults, December 24, 2019

Assad regime forces, enabled by Russian bombing, have renewed their drive to take the “ghost city” of Ma’arat al-Num’an in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Heavy clashes were reported on Friday night on a front between the towns of Talmenes and Deir Sharqi, with Russian and regime warplanes overhead.

Pro-opposition activists say an Iranian drone was downed over Ma’arat al-Num’an, 33 km (21 miles) south of Idlib city.

The pro-Assad blog Al Masdar, used as a channel by the regime military, said towns and villages were occupied. They include Ma’ar Shamarin, 3 km (2 miles) from the southeast edge of Ma’arat Al-Nu’man.

More than 350,000 civilians fled the area in and near Ma’arat Al-Nu’man last month amid deadly Russian-regime air and ground attacks. However, the offensive refrained from seizing the city, instead continuing the bombing of remaining sites: on January 8 the Central Hospital — the last in southern Idlib — was knocked out of service.

See also Syria Daily, Jan 9: Russia and Regime Pound Emptied Town of Ma’arat al-Num’an, Damage Last Hospital

Syria Daily, Dec 23: The Imminent Death of A City in the Northwest

Since late April, the Russian-regime offensive — which shattered a “de-escalation zone” declared by Russia and Turkey — has killed more than 1,500 civilians, wounded thousands, and displaced more than 600,000 in the last major opposition area of Syria. Russia and the regime have seized almost all of northern Hama Province and part of southern Idlib.

The UN estimates that more than 3 million people, about 20% of Syria’s remaining population, live in the greater Idlib area.

UN officials have said the attacks are tantamount to a “war crime”. On Wednesday, Secretary General António Guterres made “a very strong appeal” for a political resolution to halt the killing of civilians.

However, the international community has been unable or unwilling to take any action. Instead, Russia and China vetoed the continuation of UN cross-border aid in December.

See also Syria Daily, Jan 22: Russia-Regime Kill 40 Civilians in Latest Attacks on Northwest