Russia, Syria Begin Idlib Offensive with Air Raids
Heavily damaged buildings seen after Assad Regime carried out air strikes in Idlib, Syria (Photo: MiddleEast Monitor)

Russian planes have reportedly begun to bomb rebel-held targets in the Syrian province of Idlib as part of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s effort to capture the last remaining strong hold of rebels putting up a fight against his rule.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that Russian jets had carried out about 30 strikes on about 16 rebel-held areas in western Idlib, the mountains of Latakia province, and the Sahl al-Ghab plain.

One reason Assad wants to launch a large-scale military attack now is that he’s hoping to defeat rebel groups before they consolidate power in Idlib, experts say. It’s also an area of the country that’s conceivably within his grasp.

“Idlib is the only territory left that is out of government control and can be feasibly recovered without starting an interstate war,” Faysal Itani, a Syria expert at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, told Vox news.

The pro-opposition Step News Agency reported Russian strikes on the villages of Inab, al-Janudiya, Tal Aawar, Sririf, Jadraya and al-Bariya.

The Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are commonly known as the White Helmets, reported that three civilians had been killed in the strikes on Jisr al-Shughour.

International Reaction to Idlib Offensive

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Syria's Bashar al-Assad against launching a "reckless attack" on Idlib. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the warning and said the Syrian army was "getting ready" to clear a "cradle of terrorism" there.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if an all-out assault takes place. The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called on Russia and Turkey to act urgently to avert "a bloodbath" in Idlib.

The province of Idlib is currently home to an estimated three million Syrians – including those who have been displaced from other parts of Syria.