Assad's forces pressed ahead with their military offensive in Idlib, seizing a cluster of villages on the southeastern edges of the province on Thursday as the overall civilian death toll from the offensive rose further.

A man wearing a blood-stained shirt watches as members of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) search for victims following a reported air strike by Syrian regime forces in Maaret al Numan in Idlib province on August 28, 2019.
A man wearing a blood-stained shirt watches as members of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) search for victims following a reported air strike by Syrian regime forces in Maaret al Numan in Idlib province on August 28, 2019. (AFP)

At least seven civilians were killed in attacks on Thursday by the Assad regime and Russia in northwestern Syria, in an area supposed to be under a ceasefire, according to local sources.

Syrian opposition aircraft monitors said four civilians were killed in a regime air strike in Maar Shamshah and three others in a Russian air strike on the village of Alteh, both in the Idlib province, the site of de-escalation and demilitarised zones.

According to the monitors, regime warplanes also targeted the villages of Telmenes, Al Deir Al Sharqi, Al Bara, Maasran, Jarjanaz, Al Tamanah, and Kansafra.

On Wednesday, regime strikes in Maarat al Numan killed at least 16 civilians and injured 34 others, said British-based war monitor, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Since April, Bashar al Assad's forces, backed by Russia, launched a renewed and deadly assault on the last strongholds belonging to opposition and allied groups in Idlib and Hama. The April offensive has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, according to the UN and US monitors.

Turkey, Iran and Russia agreed in 2017 to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Under a 2018 demilitarisation deal, opposition groups in Idlib agreed to remain in areas in Idlib where they were already present, while Russia and Turkey would carry out joint patrols to prevent a resumption of fighting.

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire with frequent attacks.

Turkey has raised the alarm over the continued attacks in Idlib and their threat to civilian populations.

Turkish President Erdogan in Moscow on Tuesday discussed normalising the situation in Idlib with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The Russia-backed Assad regime recently attacked at least two of Turkey's 12 observation posts in northern Syria.

Syrian army presses on in Idlib

The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops captured three small villages in Idlib, as they continued their assault in the area.

Last week, the troops captured the town of Khan Shaykhun, which also sits on a key highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

For now, their main aim is to reopen the M5 highway and they have been pounding towns and villages that lie near that route.

Opening the highway would cut the trip between the country's two largest cities by two hours.

Humanitarian crisis

The UN says that over 550 civilians have been killed and over 400,000 people displaced from northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces since the offensive on Idlib began in late April.

Almost half of those displaced, some of them multiple times, live in camps and reception centres in the open air or under trees.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, "Satellite imagery shows entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground, while dozens of communities have been emptied."

He called on the warring parties to ensure the safety of civilians as clashes, shelling and air strikes escalate.

Dujarric said three-quarters of the 3 million people being impacted by the violence are women and children.

FSA pushes back YPG in Al Bab

Fierce fighting broke out on Wednesday between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the YPG as the terror group tried to advance into Al Bab, a city in northern Syria.

The fighting occurred in the evening as YPG attacked Diklabas, a village west of Al Bab controlled by the Free Syria Army (FSA), with heavy weapons, according to ground reports.

The FSA pushed back the attacks.

Al Bab was largely cleared of terrorist elements in 2016 as part of the Turkish military’s Operation Euphrates Shield.

Simultaneously, the YPG attacked the FSA from Kafer Karshin, an area south of the northwestern city of Azaz, but its attacks were repelled.

The Free Syria Army on Wednesday night also repelled YPG attacks in the village of Qimar south of Afrin.

Since 2016, Turkey has carried out two major military operations in northwestern Syria — Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch — with the aim of ridding the region of YPG and Daesh.

The US backed the YPG-led militia SDF in its fight against Daesh in Syria.

The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organisation.

In its 30-year terror campaign against the Turkish state more than 40,000 people, including women and children, have been killed.

Turkey, the US and the EU recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies