Air raids by Syrian warplanes in the country’s restive northwest killed at least eight civilians, including two children, as troops and rebels battled for a town that has changed hands over the past two weeks.
Thursday’s air raids followed an intensification of fighting in the last rebel-held stronghold in the country after a coalition of armed groups launched a counter-offensive two days earlier aimed at regaining territory lost to government forces.
More than 200,000 people in the region have fled since Syrian and allied Russian forces renewed a military campaign to rid the northwest of various rebel groups.
Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized control of Kafr Nabuda in Hama province on May 8 but were repelled by rebel fighters on Wednesday.
More than 100 combatants have been killed in the fighting around the town since Tuesday.
Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly the al-Qaeda wing in Syria, alongside other rebels control much of Idlib province as well as slivers of the adjacent Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
In the Idlib town of Kafr Aweid, air raids on Thursday blew in the facades of buildings, littering their interiors with mounds of rubble, an AFP news agency photographer reported.
A young boy was seen running barefoot from the site of a blast covered in dust – his eyes filled with tears and spatters of blood visible on his feet.
Two young girls were killed in attacks on the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.
It said ground clashes had subsided but government warplanes carried out more than 60 raids on various parts of southern Idlib.
One of the attacks knocked out a health facility in Kfar Oweid village, the Observatory said.
Power station hit
Rights groups say since the offensive was launched in late April, Syrian and Russian attacks have hit at least 18 health facilities, including five identified to the government by the United Nations. Some of the facilities were targeted twice.
Syrian Electricity Minister Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutly said Thursday that al-Zara power station in Hama province was back online and linked up to the national grid.
Station manager Mostafa Shantout said a drone operated by rebels dropped a number of bombs late Wednesday on the facility. The comments by both officials were carried by the official state news agency SANA.
Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the fighters, denied the fighters targeted the power station. He said the rebels have shelled Hama military airport because it is used to attack their stronghold.
Separately, a British journalist working with Sky News reported on Thursday that her team was deliberately shelled by Syrian forces.
“We were spotted by a military drone and then repeatedly shot at with what we believe were 125mm shells probably fired from a T-72 Russian battle tank,” correspondent Alex Crawford said.
“As we retreated to leave the area, the targeting of us continued,” said the journalist.
This is the moment Sky News' crew in Idlib was targeted and fired upon by Syrian regime forces.@AlexCrawfordSky says they were attacked with tank shells, as an activist they were travelling with was hit by shrapnel.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) May 23, 2019
She said one of the Sky crew had press markings on his flak jacket, while the other was carrying a clearly visible green medical trauma pack.
“They were all clear violations of the normal standards of operation in a battle zone,” she said.
“Even when we withdrew to the nearby town … some 10km away, the shelling followed us there and continued.”