Russian, Syrian air strikes forces kill 59 in Idlib - monitor group

Air strikes by Russian and Syrian government forces killed 59 people in rebel-held Idlib province on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The dead included 38 killed in a single Russian strike on the town of Maarat al-Numan, which the Britain-based monitoring group described as the province’s biggest massacre since the escalation of violence in late April. It said nearly 750 civilians had been killed since then.  

Russia denied any involvement in the deadly attack on the last rebel-held province in Syria, dismissing the reports as “fake”, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. 

United Nations’ agencies and NGOs say at least two dozen hospitals and clinics have been destroyed by air strikes, some hit multiple times, said a report in the British newspaper, the Guardian. More than 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and move closer to the border with Turkey, according to the UN. 

Top humanitarian leaders warned in a video last month of a “humanitarian nightmare” in Idlib. More than 3 million people are crammed into the province, many having fled fighting elsewhere in the country. Thousands of government opponents took refuge in Idlib following defeats elsewhere in the country. 

The goal of the Syria-Russian offensive, which has targeted civilian areas, is to push them out of the country, according to Washington Institute fellow Fabrice Balanche. As Idlib residents flee to the border, the province becomes emptied of government enemies, Balanche said last month, allowing President Bashar Assad’s forces to more easily take control. 

The problem is that the displaced have nowhere left to go. The camps along the border are full, and Turkey has not only closed its border, but also quietly begun forcibly returning hundreds of Syrian refugees to their homeland, according to the Washington Post. 

Since the offensive began, Syrian and Russian forces have made little progress, which has reportedly led to frustration in Moscow, according to the Guardian, which suggested this was the reason for the recent increased bombing. 

Ankara “has insisted it would not shoulder the burden of a massive inflow of refugees in the event of a coordinated ground push,” said the Guardian. Turkey has called for a summit with Russia and Iran to end the conflict, it said.