Syria activists: After 3 months, Russian strikes hit Idlib

BEIRUT (AP) — Russian warplanes carried out early Wednesday the first airstrikes in three months on the last remaining rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, opposition activists said. There was no immediate word on any casualties.

The airstrikes, along with ground bombardment over the past few days, have forced hundreds of people to flee their homes to safer areas further north, the activists said. The strikes on and near Idlib province were the first to be conducted by Russian planes since a truce brought relative calm to the volatile region in early March, they said.

The truce, brokered by Turkey and Russia, halted a terrifying three-month air and ground campaign that had killed hundreds and sent 1 million people fleeing toward the Turkish border.

Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces while Turkey supports the opposition. In recent years, Moscow and Ankara have become the main power-brokers in Syria, shattered by a civil war since 2011.

Opposition activists said that in recent days, both Turkey and the government in Damascus have been sending reinforcements to northwestern Syria. There have also been repeated violations of the truce on the ground in recent weeks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, said Russian warplanes targeted rebel-held areas just south of Idlib province late Tuesday and Wednesday morning. It had no immediate word on casualties in the four airstrikes.

Idlib-based activist Taher al-Omar said Russian warplanes fired missiles that caused wide destruction. He also gave no word on casualties.

Another Idlib-based activist, Hadi Abdullah, said Wednesday’s strikes hit a mountain region in Latakia province on the edge of Idlib, and a power station on the northern edge of Hama province.

Idlib, home to some 3 million people, many of them internally displaced, is also a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or Levant Liberation Committee. Turkey has thousands of troops deployed in Idlib.

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