Thursday, January 18, 2018

Syrian regime airstrikes pummel rebels in north

BEIRUT — Syrian government warplanes unleashed deadly airstrikes on rebel strongholds in the country's north on Tuesday, activists reported.

The barrage came as the U.N. food agency warned that more and more Syrians depend on assistance provided by the World Food Program to stay alive amid the worsening civil war.

The airstrikes hit Idlib and Aleppo provinces, with activists describing them as some of the worst since rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad made advances in the region in the past week.

Assad's regime has increasingly relied on warplanes in its struggle to crush rebels who have taken over large swathes of territory in the north and near the border with Turkey.

In addition to the air bombardment, Human Rights Watch on Sunday cited allegations that Assad's government has been using cluster bombs — which are banned by most nations. The New-York based group cited amateur video and testimony from Syrian front lines.

The Syrian military denied the reports, saying in a statement late Monday that the allegations were "baseless and are part of media propaganda that aims to divert international public opinion from crimes committed by armed terrorist groups."

Syrian authorities blame the civil war in the country on armed gangs and terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize Syria.

An activist in the northern province of Idlib, who identified himself only as Abu Hamza, declining to give his full name for fear of reprisals, said Tuesday's airstrikes were some of the worst since rebels took over the key city of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib on Oct. 10.

The city lies along the main highway connecting Aleppo with the cities to the south, including Homs and the capital Damascus.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Observatory, said the airstrikes were "concentrated and intensive" and the worst in weeks. He said warplanes carried out 12 raids in the area of Maaret al-Numan in one hour. The group relies on a network of activists on the ground. Abdul-Rahman said at least 90 people were killed in airstrikes and artillery shelling.

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