Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, after their talks, part of Russia-Iran-Turkey summit to discuss Syria, Friday Sept. 7, 2018. Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani began a meeting Friday in Tehran to discuss the war in Syria, with all eyes on a possible military offensive to retake the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
This image courtesy of Mustafa Alabdullah, an activist and resident of Idlib, shows a protester holding a placard, in Harim, a town in Idlib province, Syria, Friday, Sept 7, 2018. The rallies were part of a day of protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad and his troops’ imminent offensive against Idlib, the last bastion of rebels in Syria. The Friday rallies came as Presidents of Iran, Turkey and Russia are meeting in Tehran to discuss the war in Syria. The summit may determine whether diplomacy halts any military action in Idlib and its surrounding areas, home to more than 3 million people. Nearly half of the area’s residents are already displaced from other parts of Syria and have refused to reconcile with the Syrian government. (Courtesy of Mustafa Alabdullah via AP)
BEIRUT – Syrian government and Russian warplanes on Saturday targeted the southern edge of Idlib province with an intense wave of airstrikes and shelling, activists and a war monitoring group said, ratcheting up the military pressure on the densely populated rebel-held bastion.
The intense air raids came a day after Iran and Russia backed a military campaign in the rebel-held area despite Turkey’s pleas for a cease-fire. Turkey has troops and 12 observations points that ring Idlib.
State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said the government was retaliating against overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib. The shelling late Friday in Mhradah killed nine civilians, according to state media.
But the government and Russian raids targeted a wide swath of rebel-held area in the southern edge of the rebel-held enclave that includes most of Idlib province and northern Hama province.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 30 air raids Saturday on a number of towns and villages in southwestern Idlib and Hama province. The area, which has been targeted over the last few days, overlooks government-controlled areas.
The intense raids forced schools to close in Khan Sheikhoun, an area under attack, according to the Observatory.
The local council of Morek, a town that serves as a crossing between Hama and Idlib, sent an urgent appeal, asking Turkey for a quick solution. “We need a quick solution or our town will burn!” the official pleaded in an audio recording shared on social media groups.
Separately, clashes broke out in eastern Syria in Qamishli, a town close to the border with Turkey, between government and Kurdish security members. The Observatory said the clashes left 10 government security personnel and seven Kurdish fighters dead.
The town is run by Kurdish-led administrators and forces, but Syrian government troops hold pockets of territory there, including the airport. Clashes rarely erupt there over turf control and authority, and are usually a reflection of deepening political tension between the uneasy partners.
Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, said in a statement that a government patrol entered the areas controlled by the Kurdish militia in Qamishli and began arresting civilians, then shot at a Kurdish checkpoint sparking the gun battle. The Asayish said seven of its members and 11 government personnel were killed.
A journalist and resident of the area, Arin Sheikmos, said the government security troops went on an arrest campaign in Kurdish-controlled areas, detaining people it accuses of skipping compulsory military service. This prompted the clashes, which lasted no more than 20 minutes, Sheikmos said.
There was no immediate word about the clashes from the government.
The U.S-backed Kurdish administration has recently begun talking with the Syrian government — essentially seeking government recognition of its self-rule areas. But in recent days, the Damascus government announced it is holding local administration elections, including in Kurdish-ruled areas, undermining the negotiations and talk of Kurdish self-rule.
The Kurdish-led administration control nearly 30 percent of Syria, mostly in the northeastern part of the country, including some of Syria’s largest oil fields. They seized the territories, with the backing of the U.S-led coalition, after chasing out Islamic State militants.