Civilians killed as Assad, Russia set sights on Idlib

The Syrian regime has repeatedly stated its intention to reclaim all of Syria's fragmented and disputed territory.

IDLIB - An air strike Saturday by key Damascus ally Russia killed six civilians including a child in the embattled opposition bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The strike hit the village of Jaballa in the south of the Idlib region, taking the lives of all six from the same family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria, says it determines who carries out an air strike according to flight patterns, as well as aircraft and ammunition involved.

A correspondent at the site of the strike saw rescue workers searching a mound of concrete rubble near a surviving olive tree.

Grasping the edges of a thick blanket, six men carried out a victim.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said it was the bloodiest such Russian air raid in two months since Moscow announced a truce for the surrounding area on August 31.

Since then, eight other civilians have been killed in Russian air strikes on different dates in the region, he said.

The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by the eight-year war, is controlled by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, which wrested control of the region from other Syrian rebels backed by Turkey. Ankara is considered the main sponsor of Syrian opposition forces.

Eight years into the war, Idlib province remains the only part of Syria that is held by the opposition trying to overthrow the Syrian dictator.

As most of Syria has returned to the control of the government, Idlib has become a last redoubt for rebel fighters and displaced civilians. The province’s pre-war population of 1.5 million has nearly doubled.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched a devastating military campaign against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and forcing more than 400,000 people to flee their homes. The UN says the constant Syrian and Russian bombardment saw 51 medical facilities being damaged or destroyed.

But a ceasefire announced by the regime's major backer Moscow has largely held since late August, though the Observatory says skirmishes persist.

On Friday, 23 regime fighters, as well as 11 jihadists and allied rebels, were killed in clashes on the western edges of the Idlib region.

Assad last week said Idlib was the main front remaining to end the civil war, as he made his first trip since 2011 to visit troops in the region. The Syrian regime has repeatedly stated its intention to reclaim all of Syria's fragmented and disputed territory.

After Assad's visit to the province, his office shared a map of the region on Twitter with a phrase meaning "stay tuned" in Arabic.

As Assad visited Idlib, his forces were deploying in Kurdish-majority areas to the east to help stave off a deadly Turkish offensive. That offensive was made possible after Turkey was seen as receiving the "green light" from the US following Donald Trump's announcement that he would be withdrawing US troops from the region.

During his visit, Assad referred to Erdogan as a "thief" for his support of rebel groups controlling parts of Syria and for Turkey's plans to control a 30 km "safe zone" along Syria's northern border.

In an interview broadcast on state TV on Thursday, Assad also denounced Turkey as an "American proxy" in Syria, warning that war between Syria and Turkey could become inevitable.

Syria's war has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.