Published On: Mon, Feb 17th, 2020

Pro-Assad forces bomb hospital in rural Aleppo as clashes intensify

Pro-Assad forces bomb hospital in rural Aleppo as clashes intensify

Turkish officials in Moscow seeking ceasefire, as Damascus vows to push on with offensive

Harun al-Aswad Mon, 02/17/2020 – 11:21

Syrian children pose for a picture as their families prepare to flee a camp for the displaced, east of Sarmada in northwestern Idlib province (AFP)

Syrian government and Russian forces are relentlessly bombing towns, villages and a hospital in northwest Syria, pushing ahead with their offensive as Turkish officials in Moscow desperately seek a ceasefire.

Territory in the Idlib and Aleppo countrysides is falling fast to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, which said on Monday they had captured dozens of towns and were continuing to push forward.

The frontline of fighting is mainly in the western Aleppo countryside, where the Kenana and Ferdous Hospital was bombed, according to activists.

Russian jets also targeted the town of Ariha, south of Idlib city, activists said. Ariha, a town on the coveted M4 highway, has been largely emptied of its residents by the bombardment.

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Nearly a million people have been displaced by pro-Syrian government forces towards the Turkish border since the offensive began in December, with over 300 civilians killed.

Around 82,000 of those are living in tents pitched in exposed fields, subject to freezing winter temperatures, the UN said last week. More than half of the displaced are children.

Turkey, which backs rebel groups holding out in northwest Syria, is anxious that hundreds of thousands of displaced people might pour over its border, joining the 3.5 million Syrian refugees already hosted by the country.

In recent days Ankara has poured arms, men and vehicles into Idlib province, the Syrian opposition’s last redoubt, with more coming across the border on Monday morning.

Turkey’s threats against Damascus and support to rebel groups has also increased, with the two sides’ artillery clashing last week with deadly effect.

In pictures: Idlib’s empty Ariha

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Anti-aircraft weapons have been provided by Ankara to rebel fighters, who last week shot down two Syrian government helicopters, which previously were able to freely bomb civilian areas.

Turkey has held several meetings with Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally and partner on the ground, hoping to reach some kind of ceasefire, though all attempts have been unsuccessful.

Turkish officials are currently in Moscow for talks. “We hope to reach a joint vision to reduce tensions in Syria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

On the ground, however, pro-Syrian government forces are showing no sign of letting up. The Syrian army said in a statement it would continue its “sacred and noble task to rid what remains of terrorist organisations wherever on Syria’s geography they are found”.

Damascus’ chief objective currently is securing the area around the highly strategic M5 highway, which runs from the Syrian capital to Aleppo via the cities of Homs and Hama.

According to al-Watan, a newspaper close to the Assad government, civilians are expected to be able to use the recently seized sections of the highway by the end of the week.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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