Air raids in northwest Syria camp kill dozens of rebel fighters

Suspected Russian air raids target military training camp for Failaq al-Sham, one of the largest Turkey-backed groups in Syria.

FEBRUARY 9: Smoke rises after Russian and Syrian regime forces carried out airstrikes in northwestern Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone, killing at least 17 civilians, on February 9, 2020. The White He
The SOHR said it suspected the air raid was carried out by Russia, which is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's civil war [File: Anadolu]

Suspected Russian air raids on a military training camp in northwest Syria has killed dozens of rebel fighters, according to a spokesman for the rebel groups and a civil defence group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria.

Monday’s attack in Idlib province, the last rebel-held enclave in Syria, targeted a camp for Failaq al-Sham, one of the largest Turkey-backed groups in the area, according to spokesman Youssef Hammoud.

He said camp leaders were among those killed in the air raid, which landed on the Jabal al-Dweila area.

Mustafa al-Haj Youssef, director of White Helmets civil defence group in Idlib, said its staff had documented the deaths of at least 35 fighters, with more than 50 others injured. An additional five people killed in the attack have yet to be identified, he said.

“The death toll is expected to rise quickly due to the high number of injuries,” Youssef told Al Jazeera, describing the wounds as “serious”.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also reported the attack but put the death toll at 78, with many wounded.

‘Violating’ Russian-Turkish deal

Earlier this year, rebel-backer Turkey and Russia – a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – brokered a truce in Idlib to halt a government offensive that displaced nearly one million people, in one of the worst humanitarian crises of Syria’s nine-year war.

Of the almost one million people displaced in the last Idlib offensive, more than 200,000 have returned home to their towns and villages, most since the truce went into force.

But the truce in Idlib, a war-battered province that is home to more than three million people, has remained fragile with some intermittent bombardment in the area from both sides.

Sayf Raad, spokesman for the National Liberation Front, an umbrella group of Ankara-backed rebels in Idlib, accused the Russian and Syrian government forces of “continuously violating the Turkish-Russian deal in targeting military positions, villages and towns”.

Turkey has long supported Syrian rebel forces in Syria. Russia has negotiated with Ankara to deploy observation teams in the rebel enclave to monitor the truce.

Last week, Turkey withdrew from one of its largest outposts in northwestern Syria which had been encircled for the past year by Syrian government forces.

The outpost in Morek had been Turkey’s largest in Hama province, most of which is now under Syrian government control.

After a string of military victories backed by Russia, the Syrian government has regained control of approximately 70 percent of the country, according to the Observatory.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies