Regime bombardment on Thursday killed 20 civilians, including eight children and three rescue workers, in northwest Syria, as fighting killed dozens on the edges of an anti-government bastion.
The Idlib region, home to about 3 million people, is supposed to be protected by a months-old international truce, but it has come under increased bombardment by the regime and its Russian ally since late April.
The UN has warned that the spike in violence could spark one of the worst humanitarian disasters in Syria’s grinding eight-year conflict.
A regime air strike targeted an ambulance in the town of Maaret al-Numan, killing three rescue workers inside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A photographer saw a destroyed ambulance and rescuers carrying a survivor from the vehicle with his arm in shreds.
Syrian charity Benefsej, which owned the ambulance, said that three of its workers had been killed.
“It was a direct targeting of the ambulance,” Benefsej member Fouad Issa said.
A woman also died in the ambulance while she was being transported for treatment, he added.
In a statement posted on social media networks, the charity described the attack as a “violation of international humanitarian law.”
“Ensuring the protection of humanitarian and health facilities via the international community is a necessity for us to continue our work,” the statement said.
Russia and rebel backer Turkey brokered an agreement in September last year that seeked to stave off an all-out regime assault on Idlib, but the deal was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from the planned buffer zone.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group extended its control over the region, which spans most of Idlib Province, as well as slivers of the adjacent provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.
The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 440 civilians, the Britain-based observatory said.
The UN says that more than 23 hospitals and one ambulance have been hit in Idlib since late April. About 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, it says.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on Tuesday warned that the world is facing “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes.”
The same day UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Turkey to “stabilize the situation,” warning “civilians are paying a horrific price.”
Fighting on Thursday raged in the north of Hama Province, leaving at least 27 anti-regime fighters and 31 loyalists dead in the clashes around Tal Meleh village, the observatory said.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem on Wednesday pledged a full return of regime control to Idlib in the latest such warning from the Damascus government.
“Idlib is a Syrian province and the operations the Syrian army is conducting are on Syrian soil and a legitimate right towards liberating the land,” he told the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen TV channel.
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