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70,000 civilians in danger of airstrikes in Maarat al-Numan

Airstrikes on the town of Maaret al-Numan - 18 December 2019 (Enab Baladi)
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On 18 December the Syrian regime launched an increased number of airstrikes against the town of Maaret al-Numan in southern Idlib Governorate, killing two civilians and leaving 70,000 others in the vicinity at risk.

The “Civil Defense Forces” documented on their Facebook page the deaths of two civilians and the injuring of five others from strikes by Russian jets and regime helicopters. The outskirts of the town were also struck by the regime’s heavy artillery.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib reported the civilian deaths and injuries after airstrikes struck a market area in Maaret al-Numan. A variety of rocket, artillery, and airstrikes had intensified in the area since the morning.

Destruction caused by airstrikes and shelling in Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

Destruction caused by airstrikes and shelling in Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

The importance of Maaret al-Numan lies in its location on the international “M5” highway linking Damascus and Aleppo cities. The town has a large population, with 216,000 people being based in Maarat al-Numan and surrounding countryside at the start of the civil conflict (according to statistics from the Syrian Local Administration Ministry in 2011).

If the regime were to take control of Maaret al-Numan this would mean losses for other opposition-held areas, due to its significant geographic location. The aim of the regime is to empty the area of its population in order to put pressure on opposition forces, in light of the increasing number of residents being displaced to the Turkish-Syrian border region.

Syrian regime jets also targeted administrative buildings belonging to the “Civil Defence Forces” in Maaret al-Numan, leaving them in ruins. The “Violet” emergency medical building was also hit by strikes and put out of service.

The director of the “Response Coordinators” team, Muhammad Hallaj, told Enab Baladi that airstrikes had targeted the international highway north-east of Maaret al-Numan since December 17 whenever any movement was detected on it. Hallaj said this was part of a systematic escalation of operations against large towns such as Maaret al-Numan. It was therefore important for civilian vehicles to use alternative roads to bypass this highway.

Roads surrounding towns in southern Idlib Governorate were targeted on 18 December

Roads surrounding towns in southern Idlib Governorate were targeted on 18 December

On 18 December regime bombardment of all types seemed to be targeting any sign of movement in the town, including on highways, in market areas, gatherings of persons, emergency response vehicles, and Civil Defence centres. This was recounted to Enab Baladi by Haj Yousef, the director of the “Civil Defence Forces” administration in Idlib Governorate.

Activists have called for a cease to bombardment against Maaret al-Numan in light of the more than 70,000 civilians located there at this time. The social media hashtag “Idlib Under Fire” has spread this message.

Civilians seen moving out from Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

Civilians seen moving out from Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

Civilians seen moving out from Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

Civilians seen moving out from Maaret al-Numan on 18 December

Maaret al-Numan has been subject to continuous bombing from regime forces since the start of the Russian-Syrian campaign against southern Idlib and northern Hama governorates last February. However, the rate of bombing has recently heightened against southern areas in Idlib, especially those containing large concentrations of civilians, as the regime attempts to gain control of the international highway.

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