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Massacres in Deir az-Zour as regime gains ground

Russia has been accused by the Syrian opposition of targeting civilian sites [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 24 January, 2016

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At least 164 people have been killed in Russian airstrikes within the past 72 hours, as the regime continues to intensify its military campaign ahead of Geneva peace talks.
Russian airstrikes on Deir az-Zour have killed 164, including 43 children and 25 women, in the past 72 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

The raids, believed to have been carried out jointly by Russia and the Syrian regime, targeted the towns of Tabia, Jazira, Khasham, and al-Bolel in the Eastern countryside around Deir az-Zour.

The death toll in the town of Khasham has risen to at least 63, as well as 100 wounded, most of them in a critical condition, according to the observatory.

Local activists in the town put the death toll higher, saying that at least 90 have been killed.

According to Abu Farat al-Dairi, a local media activist, the airstrikes having been particularly targeting Khasham, located in the Deir al-Zour countryside, since Saturday evening - and raids have continued on a number of buses travelling between villages and towns in the province.

Local reports said that a shared taxi was completely destroyed, killing all its civilian passengers. They have yet to be identified.  

Dairi emphasised that the Russian air raids were targeting civilians, and said that medical supplies were urgently needed in order to save dozens of wounded residents.

Airstrikes also targeted Raqqa, killing at least 44 people, according to the Observatory. Activists say that the strikes targeted a hospital, a blood bank, and a Red Crescent clinic.

The two areas are under control of the Islamic State group, whose fighters have been embroiled in pitched battles with regime troops during the past week.  

Civilians in the beseiged province have suffered both under IS and the regime, and some here have noted a lack of media presence in the area compared with Aleppo and Idlib, which have also been a focus of Russian airstrikes this week. 

Regime intensifies campaign

Russian and regime airstrikes have not only built momentum for Damascus in areas under IS control, but also in Free Syrian Army-held areas.

On Saturday, 18 barrel bombs targeted the besieged Moadamiyeh suburb of Damascus, killing at least 23 FSA fighters and three civilians.

Activists shared a video of the local hospital in the aftermath of the strikes.

As regime forces attempt to cut the road connecting Moadamiyeh and Darraya - the last remaining opposition-held areas in the Damascus area, they have issued repeated threats to the opposition to leave town - or face "annihilation".

Activist video shows chaotic scenes following an air raid.
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Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces captured the strategic town of Rabia in the rural area north of Latakia, under Syrian and Russian aerial cover.

Media activist Wasim Shadeen said that armed opposition units in the town were surrounded by regime forces and militias on three sides, while being targeted by air raids.

A similar military tactic was reportedly used to capture the town strategic Latakia town of Salma earlier this month.

Latakia Governor Ibrahim Khder al-Saalem said that regime forces were able to capture the city with "thanks to the support of the friendly Russian aviation", adding that the "army will now press its offensive further".

On Friday, troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured other areas from insurgents in Latakia province, including Kaluksi mountain and several villages, according to the state-run SANA news agency.

The military victories in Latakia means that the Syrian army has the opportunity to regain territory up to the Turkish border.

Although Russia's declared goal in Syria was to combat the Islamic State group, Moscow has been accused of targeting rebels battling both the Assad regime and IS.

This week the Syrian observatory reported that Russian airstrikes had killed at least 1,000 civilians since Moscow's military intervention began in September.

Analysts have commented that the swelling momentum of the regime campaign may be an attempt to bolster Damascus before renewed negotiations in Geneva commence on Monday.

 

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