Some hospitals have stopped sharing coordinates because it ‘paints a target on their back’, UN’s Mark Lowcock says.
Air raids on a popular market and residential neighbourhoods in Syria‘s rebel-held Idlib province have killed at least 50 people and wounded scores more, a war monitor and rescuers said.
At least 36 civilians and two unidentified people were killed on Monday when Russian air raids hit a vegetable market and surrounding areas in Maarat al-Numan, a densely populated city in the south of Idlib province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Another 12 civilians were killed in Syrian government air raids in other parts of the province in northwestern Syria, the British-based monitor said.
In Maarat al-Numan, a photographer with the AFP news agency said he saw men covered in blood being carried away from the market by residents and rescue workers. They used mattresses as makeshift stretchers, he said.
Activists said black smoke billowed over the city centre and citizens were on the streets crying for help.
“Bodies are lying on the streets,” Abdul Rahman al-Yasser, a rescuer from Idlib’s civil defence team, told Reuters, as he searched for bodies under the rubble. “May God take revenge on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] for their crimes.”
The head of the local hospital, Radwan Shardub, described his horror at seeing “burnt and carbonised bodies and body parts”.
“It’s boundless criminality to shameful international silence,” he said.
The White Helmets rescue group said one of its volunteers was killed during the raids, raising the number of rescue workers killed since April to six.
The White Helmets have lost 266 martyrs until yesterday, after losing Anas Al-dyab to Russian triple airstrikes. Today, Amir joins what seems to be an endless number of fallen heroes to be the 267th. pic.twitter.com/boaVvA7drB
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) July 22, 2019
Russia denied it was responsible for the air attack calling the reports “fake”.
“The Russian air force was not carrying out any missions in this part of Syria,” said a defence ministry statement.
Shortly after the market attack, Syrian state media said rebels shelled the government-held village of Jourin in northern Hama province, killing seven civilians.
Idlib has witnessed intensive air attacks and bombardment on a daily basis as Syrian troops, backed by Russian air cover, try to push their way into the enclave near the Turkish border. The province is the last major rebel stronghold in the country outside the control of Assad’s forces.
Since the Syrian military launched its Idlib offensive in late April, more than 2,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
Reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said crowded markets had been targeted during the campaign.
“Almost 700 people have been killed in recent weeks. This is kilometres away from the frontline but this is what the Syrian government has been doing,” Khodr said.
“They target civilian neighbourhoods, civilian infrastructure, in order to force the rebels to surrender. But the rebels are not surrendering. In fact, what they are doing is putting up a fight and holding ground.”
Russia and the Syrian army deny allegations of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they are fighting al-Qaeda-inspired armed groups.
And despite the heavy bombardment, Assad’s troops have failed to make major inroads into rebel territory in Hama and Idlib provinces, where rebels backed by Turkey alongside other armed groups are putting up fierce resistance.
Turkey, which reached an accord last September with Russia to contain the fighting and is seen by many civilians in opposition areas as a protector, said Moscow should pressure its Syrian ally to halt the bombing.
“The responsibility to stop the regime attacks (in Idlib) is on our neighbour Russia,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster TGRT Haber.
The struggling campaign underscores the limits of Syria and Russia’s air power and inability to achieve a definitive victory in the country’s long-running civil war, now in its ninth year.
On Sunday, government bombing in Idlib killed at least 18 people, including a young citizen journalist.
The AFP, citing rescue workers, said Anas al-Dyab, a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, who contributed to the news agency was killed in his hometown of Khan Sheikhoun. He died while trying to film the air raids. Al-Dyab was also a member of the White Helmets.