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Dozens dead as Syria regime, opposition clash in the north

Syrians check the damage after the Syrian regime carried out air strikes in Idlib, Syria on 11 June 2018 [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images]
Syrians check the wreckage after the Syrian regime carried out air strikes in Idlib, Syria on 11 June 2018 [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images]

The Syrian government renewed its bombing campaign on several targets around the opposition-held Idlib province over the weekend, with the northern region witnessing some of the heaviest fighting since the Sochi ceasefire deal.

Clashes in the countryside of Hama have been the most intense, with regime shelling targeting the village of Halfaya and Al-Lataminah on Friday, resulting in the deaths of some 22 fighters belonging to the Jaysh Al-Izza faction.

On Saturday, the province's largest opposition group Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam responded and alleged that 20 Syrian soldiers were killed; the recently opened Morek border crossing was subsequently closed for two days as a result of the fighting.

Heavy shelling continued last night in the towns of Al-Mutnah, Al-Khawain and Jerjanaz in Idlib, as well as in Kafr Hamrah in the Aleppo governorate. The total casualties are as yet unknown, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Prior to the latest attack, intermittent exchanges of fire have frequently broken out in northwest Syria since a deal in September between Russia, a key Damascus ally, and Turkey, which has backed the opposition.

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The Sochi deal was credited with preventing a full-scale offensive in the northern province, home to some three million people. It stipulated the creation of a 15 kilometre deep buffer zone around the Idlib region and nearby Hama and Aleppo, with the withdrawal of heavy weaponry by the opposition.

Syrian refugees and Assad - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Syrian refugees and Assad – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

However, the longevity of the deal remains unknown, with the violations leading to growing uncertainty on both sides.

Last month the Syrian government accused the Turkish government of not meeting the obligations of the agreement, claiming that opposition groups and heavy weaponry were still in the demilitarised zone. Turkey rejected the claim with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters earlier today that there were no issues in implementing the memorandum.

The Assad regime has also previously stated that in the view of the Syrian government the ceasefire deal is a "temporary one", and that the government's objective to control all of Syria remains the same. Such rhetoric has prompted concern amongst opposition groups in Idlib about the gradual erosion of the deal, with the regime preparing to retake the north from a position of strength.

The UN and aid organisations have repeatedly warned that a fully-fledged offensive on Idlib could spark the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the country's civil war so far.

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