BEIRUT – Shelling and airstrikes by Syrian government forces killed at least three people on Wednesday in northwestern Syria, where dozens of villages, including major rebel strongholds in the last opposition-held area, have been captured over the past few days.
The new push by Russian-backed Syrian troops could worsen the humanitarian crisis that has displaced nearly a million people and left more than 300 civilians dead since the beginning of December.
The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief group operating in the country's northwest, said that government forces had struck numerous civilian targets in the past 24 hours, including eight schools, three medical centers, and several settlements where people displaced by the fighting had taken shelter.
The group's statement condemned the “silence by the international community” calling it an “open invitation” for Russian-backed government forces to continue their assault.
The violence came as a Russian delegation was scheduled to arrive in Turkey later Wednesday to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in the northwestern Idlib region. The area is the country's last rebel-controlled stronghold and the Syrian government's military campaign there, backed by Russia, has created a humanitarian catastrophe with more than 900,000 people displaced from their homes in nearly three months.
Turkey and Russia back rival groups in the Syrian conflict and over the past weeks Ankara sent thousands of Turkish troops to Idlib. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops so far this month have left 16 Turkish soldiers dead.
Syrian opposition activists said government forces shelled a Turkish military convoy on a road near the northwestern village of Bara on Wednesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.
On Tuesday, Syrian troops shot down a Turkish drone over Idlib, saying it was carrying out a reconnaissance mission over a town recently captured by government forces.