AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian opposition sources say Russian planes bombed rebel-held northwestern Syria in large-scale strikes on Sunday as a Turkish-Russian deal halted major ceasefire fighting nearly six months ago.
Witnesses say military planes struck the western outskirts of the city of Idlib and that heavy artillery shelling by nearby Syrian army outposts took place in the mountainous region of Jabal al-Zawiah in southern Idlib. There are no immediate reports of casualties.
“These 30 attacks are the worst strikes to date since the ceasefire agreement was reached,” said Mohamed Rashid, a former rebel officer and volunteer observer whose network covers Russia’s air base in the western coastal province of Latakia.
Other tracking centers say Russian Sukhoi planes hit the Horsh area and the city of Arab Said, west of Idlib. Unidentified drones also struck two cities held by rebels in the Sahel al-Gab plain, west of Hama province.
There have been no large-scale airstrikes since the March agreement ended a Russian-backed bombing campaign that displaced more than a million people in the region bordering Turkey after months of fighting.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow or the Syrian army, which has long accused fighting groups abstaining in the latest opposition redoubt of violating the ceasefire agreement and attacking areas controlled by the army.
The deal between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin also neutralized the military confrontation between them after Ankara poured thousands of troops into Idlib province to stop Russian-backed forces from making further progress.
Western diplomats tracking Syria say Moscow has put pressure on Ankara in the latest round of talks Wednesday to reduce its broad military presence in Idlib. Turkey has more than 10,000 troops stationed at dozens of bases there, according to opposition sources in connection with the Turkish military.
Witnesses say there has been a surge in sporadic shelling from Syrian army posts against Turkish bases in the past two weeks. The rebels claim that the Syrian army and its allied militias have amassed troops on the front lines.
Two witnesses said a Turkish military convoy, including at least 15 armored vehicles, was seen entering Syria at night through the Kafr Lusin border crossing towards a main base in rural Idlib.