A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through the village of Kafr Halab on the western edge of Aleppo province on Sunday. Agence France-Presse
Russia’s military said the United States had mounted air strikes in Syria’s Idlib without forewarning Moscow or Ankara, endangering a ceasefire there, Russian news agencies reported on Sunday.
The strikes without a heads-up in the “de-escalation zone” breached previous agreements and caused several casualties, TASS news agency cited the Russian defence ministry as saying.
It said Russian and Syrian warplanes had fully suspended raids against insurgents in Idlib province in northwest Syria, after declaring a ceasefire that started on Saturday morning.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, part of the Department of Defense, said US forces struck an Al Qaeda facility in Idlib in an attack aimed at the organisation’s leadership. US air strikes have at times hit targets linked to Qaeda in northwest Syria in recent years.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strikes had pounded bases belonging to militantsnear the town of Maarat Misrin on Saturday. The UK-based monitor said more than 40 militants, including some commanders, were killed.
Interfax news agency cited Russia’s military as saying the strikes had hit between Maarat Misrin and Kefraya village.
While artillery hit parts of Idlib in the past 24 hours, there was a lull in air strikes that had been pounding the region in recent weeks, the Observatory, a rebel official and rescue workers have said.
It was the second such ceasefire declared in the past month in Idlib, which is in Syria’s northwest corner - the only big chunk of the country still in rebel hands.
A truce in early August collapsed three days in, after which the Russian-backed army pressed its offensive and gained ground.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, said the ceasefire was temporary and would serve the strategy of Damascus “to liberate every inch”.
“(Turkish President Tayyip) Erdogan will be forced to leave Syrian land... This is our decision, not by his choice,” she told Al Mayadeen TV in an interview late on Saturday.
Turkey, which backs rebel factions, and Russia, Assad’s key ally, brokered a “de-escalation” deal in 2017 that sought to curb fighting in Idlib. It does not cover extremist militants.
Under its deals with Russia and Iran, Turkey’s military has a dozen posts in the Idlib region. Ankara also backs rebel forces that hold tracts of territory north of Idlib near its border.
Turkey’s foreign minister said on Friday the military would leave only once there was a political solution, which remains elusive after more than eight years of war and several rounds of failed UN peace talks.
A fragile Russian-backed ceasefire was holding on Sunday in Syria’s violence-plagued northwest, following months of heavy bombardment of the anti-regime bastion, a war monitor said.
“Relative calm prevails” over the Idlib region, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime and Russian warplanes have not been seen over Idlib since a unilateral ceasefire went into effect at 6:00am on Saturday, he added.
But the Observatory head did report some “skirmishes” in Idlib, where government forces have been battling jihadists of the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) alliance and allied rebel groups.
HTS, Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, controls almost all of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The area is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The region of some three million people has been hit hard by four months of bombardment by the regime and its ally Russia.
More than 950 civilians have been killed since the end of April, according to the Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
The UN says more than 400,000 people have fled.
The truce is the latest Russian-led effort to avert what the United Nations has described as one of the worst humanitarian “nightmares” in Syria’s eight-year conflict.
It is the second such agreement between Assad’s regime and militants since Aug.1.
But on Saturday, an Assad advisor said that the ceasefire was “temporary.”