Syrian airstrikes pound Idlib after loss of base, killing 50

The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Syrian airstrikes Tuesday targeted two hospitals and a besieged rebel enclave near the city of Homs, killing at least 50 people, anti-regime activists said.

The strikes came a day after Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham insurgents overran a large military base in northwest Idlib province, leaving nearly 200 combatants dead.

Eight airstrikes pounded several areas of Idlib province including the Wadi Deif complex which was seized by the insurgents, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based, anti-regime monitoring group. The group said that airstrikes in and around the town of Maaret al-Numan, which is located next to the base, killed 10 people.

Strikes also hit Orient Hospital in the town of Kafranbel in Idlib, killing at least 12 people, local activists said. The identities of some victims were unknown, as the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

In eastern Deir al-Zor province, airstrikes targeted a hospital in the town of Mayadin, which is under the control of ISIS militants.

The Observatory said that five ISIS “commanders,” among them Kuwaitis and Tunisians, were killed, along with a doctor, his wife and son, a nurse and two female civilians. It said the casualty figure was expected to rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition.

Local activists did not mention any ISIS casualties, but said 10 were killed and listed their names.

Outside the central city of Homs, airstrikes targeted the rebel-held enclave of Waer, which has seen on-and-off negotiations over a truce with the regime in recent months.

The strikes killed at least 13 civilians, including a member of the neighborhood’s negotiating team and his wife, the Observatory said. Waer is the last rebel-held area of Homs, which was once known as the “capital of the revolution” against Assad.

Talks have been underway for months on a potential cease-fire between regime and rebel forces, but they have so far been fruitless.

In Hama province, helicopters dropped six barrel bombs on the town of Latamneh, killing a woman, while strikes pounded rebel-held areas of Deraa and Aleppo provinces, and several areas around the capital Damascus.

Also Tuesday, pro-regime social media reported that a number of military personnel who fled the Wadi Deif base arrived safely in the town of Morek in next-door Hama province.

State media acknowledged the loss, but referred tersely to a “redeployment” by government troops.

Nearly 200 combatants on both sides were killed in 24 hours of clashes, the Observatory said. It also said Nusra Front fighters had captured more than 100 regime soldiers.“There were at least 100 dead on the regime side and 80 among the attackers, killed in clashes, bombardments and by mines,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel-Rahman said. The jihadis and their allies took at least 120 soldiers prisoner, while another 100 managed to flee.

A video distributed by the Observatory shows five of the captured soldiers kneeling on the floor of a room, stripped down to their underwear and with their hands tied behind their backs. The captors kick the men in the face and on their heads, slap them, and then one man whips them mercilessly with a hose as one of the soldiers cries out in pain.

Seizing the key Wadi Deif and Hamidieh military posts Monday gave the jihadis control of most of the northwestern province, in a major blow to the regime. The jihadis advanced on the bases in coordination with Islamist rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, the Observatory said, adding that a string of villages in the area also fell.

Activists in the area said that at least one mass grave had been discovered in the wake of the retreat by government forces, containing seven bodies.

Idlib was among the first provinces to fall, soon after the March 2011 outbreak of the armed revolt against Assad's rule.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2014, on page 1.

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