Syrian regime air strikes kill 23 civilians in Idlib, monitor says

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says about 30 were wounded

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian woman walks past destruction at the site of a reported government bombardment in the village of Maasaran on the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on December 17, 2019.  / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ
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Regime air strikes and shelling have killed 23 civilians, including children, as violence intensifies rebel-held areas of north-western Syria, a war monitor said on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said from Britain that about 30 people were wounded, with some in serious condition.

It said regime artillery fire killed six people from the same family in the village of Talmanas, and that the wife and three children of a member of the White Helmets rescue organisation were killed in Badama.

On its Twitter account, the White Helmets, a volunteer group that responds to bombings in rebel-held areas, posted a video of a volunteer pulling the bodies of his family from the rubble of a building.

In the village of Maasaran, regime air strikes killed another six civilians. Pro-government bombardment also led to four civilians losing their lives in other parts of the region.

Increased strikes on Idlib in recent weeks seem to suggest that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces are preparing for a ground offensive.

The objective appears to be reopening the main motorway linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Before the war began in 2011, Aleppo was the country’s commercial centre.

The Idlib province is dominated by Al Qaeda-linked militants.

In August, after weeks of intense fighting, Syrian troops captured the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. Just north of Khan Sheikhoun is another major town in rebel hands, Maaret Al Numan.

The strategic M5 motorway passes through Khan Sheikhoun but is cut in Maaret Al Numan. The route has been closed by the rebels since 2012.

Thousands of Maaret Al Numan’s residents have fled in recent days amid intense air strikes and shelling.

Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive this year against Idlib, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.

A ceasefire halted that advance at the end of August, but in recent weeks it has been broken repeatedly