3 rescuers among 15 killed in Syrian regime strike
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
Regime bombardment killed 15 civilians, including seven children and three rescue workers in an ambulance in northwest Syria on Thursday (June 20th), AFP reported.
The children were killed in various areas of the extremist-run Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A regime airstrike targeted an ambulance in the town of Maarat al-Numan, killing three rescue workers inside, in the latest deadly bombardment on the wider region.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw a destroyed ambulance and rescuers carrying a wounded survivor from the vehicle.
The Benefsej aid organisation said two of its workers had been killed.
"It was a direct targeting of the ambulance, killing two" aid workers, said Fouad Issa, a member of the charity's management board.
A woman also died in the ambulance while she was being transported for treatment, he added.
Russian airstrikes targeting the vicinity of the city of Idlib and the towns of Hesh, Kafar Sijna, Sheikh Mustafa and Sufuhon have left many casualties, activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.
The heaviest death toll was in the town of Benin, he said, which was targeted with at least four airstrikes that killed eight civilians and wounded several others, some of whom are in critical condition, according to the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets).
'Liberating the land'
Fighting raged Thursday in the north of Hama province, leaving at least 22 anti-regime fighters and 21 loyalists dead in the clashes around Tal Meleh village, the Observatory said.
More than 90 fighters were killed in the same area over the two previous days, it said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Wednesday pledged a full return of regime control to Idlib in the latest such warning from the Damascus government.
"Idlib is a Syrian province and the operations the Syrian army is conducting are on Syrian soil and a legitimate right towards liberating the land," he told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen television channel.
The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 440 civilians, according to the Observatory.
The UN says more than 23 hospitals and one ambulance have been hit in the Idlib region since late April. Some 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.
The UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock on Tuesday warned that the world is facing "a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes".
UN chief Antonio Guterres the same day called on Russia and Turkey to "stabilise the situation", warning "civilians are paying a horrific price".
Activists launch hashtag to spotlight violence
In response to Syrian and Russian airstrikes, local activists in Idlib launched the hashtag #I_am_not_a_terrorist to shed light on the violence inflicted on innocent Idlib and rural Hama province residents.
The hashtag was widely adopted by activists and social media users who saw it as a way to expose violent actions by the regime and Russia against civilians under the pretext of "fighting terrorists", al-Idlibi said.
The hashtag was accompanied by a video that contained footage of civilians in the targeted region identifying themselves and their occupations and declaring that they are not terrorists, he told Diyaruna.
Many of those featured in the video said that "they oppose the regime but are not terrorists", he said, adding that the video concludes with the footage of a girl no older than five years old saying "I am not a terrorist".
The hashtag "was widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter", said al-Idlibi, noting that civilians in the region praised it as the best way to convey their voice to the world.