Unidentified jets bomb powerful Ahrar Al Sham’s main camp in Syria
AMMAN // Unidentified jets have bombed a major camp of the powerful Ahrar Al Sham rebel group in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, killing and wounding a large number of people, an opposition monitor said on Tuesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamist group’s top trainers were normally at the camp located in the Sheikh Bahar area of rural Idlib.
Ahrar Al Sham could not be reached for comment.
During the previous 24 hours, Syrian warplanes had intensified raids in the province, which is mainly in the hands of Ahrar al Sham and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Observatory said a wave of airstrikes had pummeled the provincial capital late on Monday night, killing at least 23 people, wounding dozens and trapping several under the rubble of their homes.
At least seven children were among those killed in the strikes on Idlib city, which is controlled by several insurgent groups, including Al Nusra.
The Observatory said Russia carried out those airstrikes but Moscow denied any involvement.
“The Russian aviation hasn’t performed any combat tasks, moreover hasn’t conducted any airstrikes in the province of Idlib,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday.
Since Russia launched a military intervention in Syria last September in an effort to shore up president Bashar Al Assad’s forces, Moscow has staunchly denied striking any civilian areas.
Al Nusra has evacuated all of its civilian centres, such as religious courts, in the city of Idlib and nearby villages and towns, said an activist based in Idlib province who goes by the name Ahmad Ariha.
He said the air raids late on Monday had killed and wounded some 250 people, while fresh strikes on Tuesday destroyed two vaccination centres in the village of Kfar Takharim.
A Syria-based reporter for Al Mayadeen TV, an Arab news channel based in Beirut, said Monday’s airstrikes targeted an Al Nusra meeting.
A Syrian opposition figure, meanwhile, said the airstrikes “demolished” three centres for the Army of Conquest, a coalition of militant groups that includes Al Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham. The figure said more than half of those killed in Idlib city on Monday were fighters.
The Local Coordination Committees, another opposition monitoring group, said Monday’s airstrikes hit two hospitals. It said 50 people were killed and over 200 were wounded. Different tolls are common in the aftermath of big attacks.
The Observatory said about 10 air raids targeted areas near the National Hospital, the Al Jalaa public gardens and other neighbourhoods in Idlib city.
“The air raids either aim to pave the way for a ground offensive on Idlib or to make the resistance kneel,” said Turkey-based activist Hassan Dughaim, who is originally from Idlib and is in contact with residents in the province that borders Turkey.
“Some people are fleeing the city but the bombing is chasing them. People are even getting bombarded in refugee camps.”
Meanwhile, fighting along Syria’s northern border intensified on Tuesday as ISIL pressed an offensive against a key swathe of rebel territory where thousands of civilians remain trapped, the Observatory said.
The extremist group swept towards the opposition strongholds of Marea and nearby Azaz in Aleppo province on Friday, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.
Rebel groups in Azaz tried to launch a counter-offensive on Tuesday but failed, said the Observatory.
ISIL blocked the attack with a suicide bomber, killing six rebel fighters.
* Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Updated: May 31, 2016 04:00 AM