BEIRUT (AP) — Government forces intensified their bombardment of rebel-held towns and villages in northwest Syria, killing at least eight people Tuesday, including five in an airstrike on a market, opposition activists said.
The new wave of violence that began on April 30 is the worst since September, when Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire that averted a government offensive on Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold.
Idlib province, that is home of 3 million people many of them displaced from other parts of Syria, is mostly controlled by al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS.
The latest wave of violence was triggered by attacks by HTS gunmen that killed dozens of troops.
Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, said warplanes bombed a market in the village of Ras el-Ain on Tuesday morning, killing five people, including three children, and wounding 20. White Helmets also said that three other people were killed in the villages of Maar Tamater and Bara.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported airstrikes and shelling on Idlib and northern rebel-held parts of Hama province. It said 13 civilians were killed on Tuesday alone.
Syrian state news agency SANA said troops were pounding insurgents’ positions “in retaliation for their violations of the truce.”
An HTS military commander known as Abu Khaled al-Shami said in comments posted online that the looming battle “will be decisive and we will use all our capabilities that will surprise the enemy.”
On Monday, Syrian troops captured the village of al-Bani and the nearby Othman hill in the northern countryside of Hama province.