Scores killed in Syria regime clashes with Idlib militants
The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are the most violent there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August, said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maaret al-Numan region as warplanes pounded jihadists and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from regime forces, said an AFP correspondent.
Residents of affected villages fled north to escape the fighting, adding to the tens of thousands who have already flooded out of the province's violence-plagued south since an escalation started earlier this year.
The Observatory on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day.
At least 36 regime forces were among those killed.
It said an attack led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting.
Overnight, the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles, according to the Britain-based war monitor.
Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing, the war monitor and an AFP correspondent said.
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The Idlib region, home to around three million people including many displaced by Syria's eight-year civil war, is controlled by the country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces where battles with regime forces have also recently taken place.
The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A ceasefire announced by Russia in late August has reduced violence in the area.
Between the end of April and the end of August, Idlib was pounded ceaselessly by Syrian soldiers backed by Russian air power.
On Saturday, the Syrian Response Coordinators Group said that 2,147 families, consisting of 11,812 individuals had been displaced from their homes in the rebel-held province, which is officially a military “de-escalation zone”, as a result of continued Russian and Assad regime airstrikes over just 24 hours.
Bombing of Idlib province by Russia and the regime resumed at the beginning of November following a two-month lull. The response coordinator’s team estimate that 61,300 have fled their homes as a result and at least 90 have been killed.
Between April and September this year at least 500,000 people were displaced and over 1,300 killed in a previous Russian and regime bombing campaign. Approximately three million people live in Idlib province, the last rebel-held area in Syria. About half of them have fled there from previous fighting in other parts of Syria.
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Meanwhile, approximately 962,000 people live in overcrowded refugee camps now, mostly in the north of Idlib province near the Turkish border. Some displaced people have had to take shelter in woods and open spaces because there is no room for them in the camps.
The Observatory estimates that nearly 1,000 civilians were killed in that period, and the UN says that more than 400,000 people were displaced.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.
On Saturday, the UN’s envoy to Syria, Geir Pedesen, has announced the failure of the second round of talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition to write a new constitution for Syria.
The talks were supposed to take place last week in Geneva, but a disagreement between regime and opposition negotiators over the agenda prevented any meetings taking place.
The United Nations-sponsored constitutional committee includes 150 delegates, 50 representing the Assad regime, 50 representing the opposition, and 50 representing civil society.
A smaller group of 45 negotiators has been given the responsibility of writing out the constitution’s text.
"It was not possible to call for a meeting of the small body of 45 [negotiators] because there has not been an agreement on the agenda,” Pedersen told reporters.
“We are trying to reach agreement but this hasn’t happened yet,” he added.
Negotiators from the civil society delegation told The New Arab’s affiliate Syria TV that Pedersen had not set a date for the next round of talks and that he planned to visit Damascus to meet with Russian, Iranian, and Turkish officials for further discussions on the agenda.
Syria TV’s reporter in Geneva said that the regime had rejected five proposals from the opposition for a meeting agenda.
Opposition negotiators had previously accused the regime of deliberately sabotaging the negotiations by refusing to submit its own proposal for an agenda and demanding that the opposition sign up to a document condemning Turkey.