49 killed following Syrian government airstrikes in Idlib
At least 49 people have been killed by Syrian government airstrikes on a town in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), airstrikes hit a square in al-Janudiyah, a town in the west of the province, which is now almost completely controlled by opposition forces.
"It's a public square, and a lot of people gather there because there are shops," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
He told AFP that people displaced from other areas of Idlib province had also sought refuge in al-Janudiyah.
Military aircraft fired missiles on the town, he said.
Unverifiable video uploaded to YouTube by activists showed absolute chaos in the aftermath of the strikes, with the air thick with grey smoke and dust and the square scattered with the rubble of buildings and the body parts of victims.
One video showed men picking through rubble next to the twisted metal of a mangled mini-bus as an older woman ran past gripping the hand of a child.
Other footage, apparently filmed later, showed members of the local civil defence force joining the rescue mission, and at least one bulldozer clearing rubble from the square.
Al-Janudiyah has been under opposition control since 2013, but much of Idlib province has only recently fallen to a rebel alliance that includes al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.
Known as the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fateh), the alliance has swept through the province since seizing the provincial capital Idlib city on 28 March.
Since then, it has taken the key strategic town of Jisr al-Shughur, as well as the largest military base in the province.
The advances have left Syrian government forces with only a handful of positions in the province.
Abdurrahman Saleh, head of international media for Jaish al-Islam – a rebel group operating in Idlib - told Middle East Eye at the end of May that the rebel takeover of Idlib marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Assad government.
“It's important because its shows the weakness of the regime and how fragile it is,” Saleh said. “Three frequent sites, Idlib, Jisr al-Shughur and Ariha, have been lost within two months. These successive losses by the regime show us how fragile it is now.”
“It can do nothing more than air attacks. It can now just maintain the areas under its control," he said.
Saleh suggested that rebel forces had been encouraged by the victories and were now looking to target government strongholds.
“The next attacks may be from Idlib towards Latakia or towards Hama. Its now possible to see further possible successes by rebels,” he said. “In the past, rebels used to take some cities and then the regime would take another site – but since the beginning of the year we've seen only defeats by the regime.”