Russian and Syrian forces intensified air strikes and shelling in rebel-held northwestern Syria overnight, the heaviest assault since the area was declared a demilitarized zone under a Russian-Turkish deal, residents and medics said on Thursday. The targeted villages and towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib fall within a buffer zone agreed last September between Russia and Turkey as part of a deal which averted a major offensive on the area.
Schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit, United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis told Reuters on Thursday. “The barrel bombing is the worst we have seen for at least 15 months.”
He added that 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Earlier this week, the United States warned violence in the buffer zone “will result in the destabilisation of the region”.
Russia, for example, wants to rebuild Syria’s train network. “Russia built it in the first place, and wants to rebuild this and strategic economic ties,” said independent Russian analyst Vyacheslav Matuzov. “Russia wants … a new Mideast security order,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Turkey has stepped up arms supplies to Syrian rebels to help them stave off an expected offensive by the Syrian army and its Russian and Iran-backed allies in the northwest near the Turkish frontier, rebel sources told Reuters. The weapons, which have entered Syria in large quantities in recent days, include ammunition and GRAD rockets.
“These arms supplies and munitions will allow the battle to extend and ensure our supplies are not drained in a war of attrition,” the rebel commander said.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for a ceasefire in the rebel-held region of Idlib in northwest Syria on Friday and said an anticipated government assault on insurgents there could result in a massacre. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Moscow opposed a truce, and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani said Syria must regain control over all its territory.