Syria scraps ceasefire, resumes air strikes on rebel-held Idlib
Damascus has ended a ceasefire for Syria’s last rebel-held enclave of Idlib, accusing rebels backed by Turkey of targeting an airbase of its ally Russia, AFP reported on Monday.
"Regime warplanes launched their first air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib's southern countryside" since late Thursday, it said, citing the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The air strikes followed a statement from the Syrian army that it would resume operations in the Idlib region, only days agreeing to a truce to end deadly bombardments that began in late April.
At least 450 civilians have been killed since April and more than 450,000 have been uprooted from their homes or fled to Turkey, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"Armed terrorist groups, backed by Turkey, refused to abide by the ceasefire and launched many attacks on civilians in surrounding areas," Syrian state-run SANA quoted the country’s military as saying, referring to jihadists and rebels.
"The armed forces will resume their military operations against terrorists," the military said, scrapping a truce that came into effect on Friday.
The Assad regime, backed by Russia, is determined not to leave Idlib under opposition control. Retaking the rebel-held province would be significant milestone for Assad’s goal of reasserting control over all of Syria.
Minutes after the declaration of the end to the ceasefire by the Syrian army, Damascus rebel fire hit near a key Russian air base, AFP said.
The Hmeimim air base with a flurry of rockets that fell near the airbase and caused great human and material losses, it cited SANA as saying.
The former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) controls most of Idlib province and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, together home to some 3 million residents.
According to a deal Ankara and Moscow struck in mid-September, Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone and remove extremist fighters such as those belonging to the HTS to prevent attacks on Syrian government forces and infrastructure.
Damascus has accused Turkey of stalling the deal, which provided for a buffer zone of up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) between the two sides, free of heavy and medium-sized weaponry.
Damascus announced earlier that it would resume bombardment because last week's truce had been "conditional" on Ankara implementing the buffer zone, SANA said.
The Syrian regime has accused Ankara of "failing to meet its obligations" by allowing armed groups to continue carrying out attacks, it added.
More than 370,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.