Tuesday 23 January 2018

Russia denies involvement in Idlib air strikes

Armed Syrian fighters evacuated from Aleppo during the ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib (AP)
Armed Syrian fighters evacuated from Aleppo during the ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib (AP)

Air strikes on a rebel-held city in Syria have killed at least 15 people, wounded dozens more and demolished several buildings, Syrian activists and medics said.

The air strikes hit the city of Idlib, the capital of a north-western province of the same name that is almost entirely controlled by Syrian rebels and al Qaida-linked insurgents.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 people were killed, including 10 civilians - mostly women.

The opposition-run Civil Defence in Idlib said 15 bodies were pulled from the rubble and that 30 people were taken for medical treatment.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of such attacks.

Opposition activists also reported air strikes on several suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The government and the opposition have repeatedly traded accusations of violating the ceasefire, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey and went into effect in December, shortly after the government recaptured the northern city of Aleppo.

The observatory said it was not clear if the air strikes were carried out by Syria, Russia or the US-led coalition that has been targeting Islamic State and al Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

The Russian military denied that its warplanes have attacked Idlib.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that Russian warplanes have not conducted a single strike on Idlib this year.

Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, providing a crucial boost for Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in battles with extremist groups as well as the mainstream opposition.

The air strikes came a day after Assad said the European Union should have no role in the reconstruction of Syria unless it changes its policy towards the country.

He said European countries which support "terrorists" in Syria "cannot destroy and build at the same time".

Assad's government views all those fighting against it as terrorists.

In the same interview, given to Belgian media on Monday, Assad said US President Donald Trump's vows to fight terrorism were "promising" but that it is still too early to "expect anything" on the ground.

He welcomed the possibility of increased co-operation between the US and his close ally Russia, saying it would be "positive for the rest of the world, including Syria".

When asked about the ceasefire, Assad said "it's not dead, and it's natural in every ceasefire anywhere in the world, in every war, in any conflict, to have these breaches".

Syria's conflict, which began with a 2011 uprising against the Assad family's four-decade rule, has killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed much of the country.

The UN has estimated that reconstruction will cost around 350 billion dollars (£282 billion).


Press Association

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