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Air strikes in Idlib resume after Syrian government scraps ceasefire

Activist group and sources on the ground say warplanes and helicopters have begun pounding the rebel-held province once more
Air strikes on Idlib province and nearby areas had stopped since Thursday, after three months of deadly bombardment (AFP)

Warplanes resumed strikes on Syria's Idlib on Monday, sources on the ground and a UK-based activist group have said, shortly after the Syrian army said it would resume operations following a ceasefire agreed last week.

Damascus accused rebels of targeting an airbase of its Russian ally and blamed Turkey for not abiding by its commitments under the agreement reached on Thursday.

"Regime warplanes launched their first air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib's southern countryside" since late Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

Syrian state media had said on Thursday the ceasefire would depend on militants fulfilling a Russian-Turkish deal that tried last year to create an Idlib buffer zone.

"Armed terrorist groups, backed by Turkey, refused to abide by the ceasefire and launched many attacks on civilians in surrounding areas," state news agency SANA reported the army as saying on Monday.

"The agreement to a truce was conditional. This did not happen. We resume our military operations against terrorist organisations," said the statement.

Dr Fadi Karim, who works for Turkish-based medical NGO White Smile in rebel-held areas, also confirmed to Middle East Eye that government air strikes had begun again. 

"We received communications from aid workers in the area confirming that they had witnessed helicopters carrying barrel bombs heading towards Khan Sheikhun," Karim told MEE. 

'First civilian death'

The Russian-backed campaign has killed hundreds of people and uprooted tens of thousands more.

Air strikes on Idlib province and nearby areas had stopped since Thursday, following three months of deadly bombardment.

Syrian militant group HTS refuses to withdraw from proposed Idlib buffer zone
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But the government had continued shelling the region, which currently hosts about three million people.

Government rocket fire on Sunday killed a woman in the Bidama district in the region's west, the Observatory said.

"It's the first civilian death since the implementation of the truce deal," said Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman on Sunday.

On Saturday, the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance that dominates the region on Turkey's border refused any withdrawal from the planned buffer zone to separate regime forces from rebel and militant fighters.

Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, the head of the alliance led by al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, said his fighters would "never withdraw from the zone".

Just a day earlier, his group had warned it would respond to any ceasefire violations by its enemies.

HTS refusal

The buffer zone is a key part of the deal struck by Russia and Turkey in September to avert a full-out offensive on Idlib.

But that accord was never fully implemented as the militants refused to withdraw from the planned buffer. 

HTS overran the whole bastion at the start of the year.

A uptick in regime and Russian bombardment since late April has killed more than 790 civilians in the opposition bastion, the Observatory says.

Retaliatory fire on government-controlled areas in the same period has killed just over 70 civilians, according to the group.