- The offensive has triggered the biggest single displacement of civilians in the war, uprooting more than 320,000 people
- The conflict has driven over 11 million people from their homes, with some 5.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring states
BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces have bombed villages and towns in the northwest after a surprise attack by insurgents, say activists
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday’s bombardment targeted half-a-dozen opposition-held villages in the northwestern Idlib province, killing at least five civilians. The activist-operated Idlib Media Center put the death toll at four.
The regime assault came hours after opposition groups in Idlib seized the village of Ateera near the border with Turkey in a surprise attack. It was a rare advance for the armed opposition.
The regime is waging a wide-scale offensive in southern Syria, where it recently retook a major crossing on the border with Jordan.
The Observatory and other activist-operated platforms reported that over 24 soldiers were killed, including a number of officers.
Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold, is included in a “de-escalation” agreement negotiated by Russia and Iran, which support the regime, and Turkey, which backs the opposition and has deployed a dozen observation points in the province.
Similar agreements elsewhere in the country have collapsed in the face of regime offensives, and the regime is expected to advance on Idlib province once it has secured other areas.
On Monday, regime forces extended their control all the way along Daraa province’s border with Jordan up to a pocket of territory held by Daesh-affiliated militants, severing a once vital opposition lifeline to Jordan.
Army helicopters reportedly dropped leaflets on the opposition-held town of Al-Haara saying “there is no place for militants.”
Daraa was the scene of the first anti-Assad protests that spiraled into a war now estimated to have killed half a million people. The conflict has driven over 11 million people from their homes, with some 5.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring states alone and many more in Europe.
Regime forces began thrusting into Daraa province last month. Heavily outgunned rebels surrendered quickly in some places as the US, which once armed them, told opposition forces not to expect its intervention.
The regime offensive is expected to turn next to nearby rebel-held areas of Quneitra province, at the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The UN said on Monday it would immediately start providing humanitarian assistance to thousands of civilian families affected by the fighting in the Daraa, Sweida and Quneitra areas of southern Syria.
The offensive has triggered the biggest single displacement of civilians in the war, uprooting more than 320,000 people. Large numbers of people have moved again in the few days since the cease-fire was agreed, some returning to their villages.