Syrian Forces Launch New Assault on Idlib
Syrian troops pushed ahead with a new assault on the northern region of Idlib on Saturday, shelling one of the centers of the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule and sending families fleeing for safety as armed rebels tried to fend off the attack. Thick black smoke billowed into the sky. The military operation has raised fears that the regime is planning a new all-out offensive in Idlib like the bloody siege last month that captured a restive part of the city of Homs, further south.
While the fighting raged, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan met with Assad in Damascus during a high-profile international mission trying to bring a halt to fighting and arrange talks between the two sides to end the country’s yearlong conflict.
But the mission was already hitting dead ends. Assad told Annan that any political dialogue was doomed to fail “as long as there are armed terrorist groups that work to spread anarchy and destabilize the country,” according to the state news agency SANA. The regime blames terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy for the uprising, not protesters seeking change.
The opposition as well has rejected dialogue, saying it is impossible to talk to Assad’s regime after a crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 7,500 people. Activists put the toll even higher, at more than 8,000.
In the town of Idlib, a number of families fled, clutching their belongings, according to an Associated Press team in the town, the main center of the northern region. A group of women and children huddled with blankets in a room of one building. Troops that are moving in place to encircle the town battered it with dozens of tanks shells from dawn until noon, the AP team said.
Armed opposition fighters dashed through the streets, taking cover behind the corners of buildings in clashes with the troops. Wounded fighters were pulled into trucks to be sped to clinics for treatment. A group of men used shovels to destroy speed bumps along one street to allow ambulances and other rescue vehicles to drive faster. Military reinforcements have been pouring into Idlib this week, including dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, activists said, reporting that dozens have been killed in the area in recent days. Their casualty reports could not be independently confirmed. The moves suggested the regime was now turning its focus on Idlib after recapturing the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in the central city of Homs, in a monthlong assault that reportedly killed hundreds and devastated the district.