Syria clashes kill 22 in highest toll since truce
A truce since March 6 had largely stemmed fighting in Syria's last major rebel bastion of Idlib after a months-long regime assault that killed hundreds of civilians and forced almost a million to flee.
But before dawn on Sunday rebels attacked the positions of pro-regime fighters on the western flank of the jihadist-dominated region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The clashes in the Sahl al-Ghab area killed 15 regime fighters as well as seven jihadists including from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Deen group, the Britain-based monitor said.
"It's the highest death toll for fighters since the truce came into force," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on sources inside Syria.
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"There had been intermittent clashes and mutual bombardment between both sides before, but this is the most violent attack yet."
The Idlib region of some three million people is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, but other jihadists such as Hurras al-Deen and rebel groups are also present.
The truce brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey has kept Syrian and Russian warplanes out of the region's skies, and largely held despite sporadic clashes or rocket fire.
Tens of thousands have returned to their hometowns.
Hundreds of thousands of others remain in crowded displacement camps or in temporary shelters near the Turkish border.
Aid groups have warned that any outbreak of the novel coronavirus there would be devastating.
"We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many such attacks taking place in populated areas," she said.
The rights chief highlighted that the surge in violence comes as the world is focused on halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed nearly 280,868 people worldwide.
"Various parties to the conflict in Syria... appear to view the global focus on the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to regroup and inflict violence on the population," she said, voicing particular concern at an uptick in attacks claimed by IS jihadists.
"The deteriorating situation is a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored."
Bachelet backed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic, and urged all sides in Syria's conflict to abide by the call.
"I urge all those continuing to fight, kill and displace the battered and beleaguered Syrian people to step back, and give peace a chance."
Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Agencies contributed to this report.