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European Union condemns north-west Syria offensive

By AFP

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Smoke billows during airstrikes on the village of Kafr Rumah in southern rural Idlib province on November 26th. [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

The European Union on Thursday (January 23rd) condemned renewed fighting around an opposition stronghold in north-west Syria, demanding an end to "unacceptable" airstrikes that have killed civilians.

Russian airstrikes in Idlib on Thursday killed eight civilians, including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Five civilians from the same family were killed in Saraqeb and three others in the town of Arnaba, the Observatory said.

"The region is witnessing very intense bombardment by Russian warplanes," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Russian bombardment targeted the west of Aleppo province on Friday without causing any casualties, the Observatory said.

Russia is backing the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as it attempts to close in on Idlib, the country's last major opposition-held bastion.

Airstrikes on Tuesday killed at least 23 civilians.

"The renewal of the offensive in Idlib, including repeated airstrikes and shelling targeting civilians are unacceptable and must cease," an EU spokesman said.

"The EU will keep the sanctions against the al-Assad regime under review as long as these brutal attacks continue," the spokesman said in a statement.

Need for a political solution

Most of Idlib and parts of Aleppo province are still controlled by factions opposed to the Syrian regime, including the extremist alliance Tahrir al-Sham.

Idlib hosts at least three million people, many of whom have fled other parts of the country and are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

The EU demanded "rapid, safe and unhindered access" for humanitarian organisations and stressed the need for a political solution to the conflict.

The surge in violence comes despite a ceasefire announced by Moscow earlier this month that never really took hold, and there are warnings that a ground offensive could be imminent.

According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost 350,000 people have fled their homes since December 1st, mainly northwards from southern Idlib, which has borne the brunt of the airstrikes.

Between January 15th and 19th, more than 38,000 people fled violence in the west of Aleppo province, OCHA said Friday.

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