AMMAN (Reuters) - Russian and Syrian jets killed at least 150 civilians and injured dozens in over a week of heavy bombing that shattered a six-month halt in intensive aerial raids in opposition-held northwestern parts of Syria, opposition rescue workers said on Wednesday.
The renewed bombing campaign came after an array of jihadist rebels led by the former Qaeda offshoot in Syria last week waged a wide-scale offensive against government-controlled areas in northern Hama.
“We have pulled 152 bodies and we have rescued 279 civilians since the Russian and regime bombing campaign,” said Salem Abu al Azem, a senior rescue worker from the opposition-run Civil Defence in Idlib, adding bodies were still being pulled out of the wreckage of buildings flattened by air raids.
Russia’s defense ministry says it is attacking hard-line Islamist militants. It denies accusations it has targeted infrastructure and medical centers to force rebels into local truces that effectively restore President Bashar al Assad’s grip on the country.
Civil defense officials and other humanitarian aid workers have documented the destruction of six hospitals, five defense centers, and power stations in the first few days of the bombing campaign alongside hitting camps where displaced civilians have been sheltering.
Rebels and witnesses differentiate easily Russian jets from Syrian planes with the former flying in sorties at high altitudes making drops with devastating impact.
The strikes began with intensive bombing of towns and cities in southern Idlib where the jihadists have a large presence but in recent days have spread to most towns across the province that borders Turkey.
Thousands of families have fled from towns such as Jisr al Shqour and Jabal al Zawya to rural areas less exposed to daily bombing and shelling, aid workers said.
The bombing campaign however comes shortly after a tripartite deal struck by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran to deploy an observer force in Idlib, a province where the former al Qaeda Syrian offshoot has cemented its control after it crushed opponents.
The Kremlin said earlier this week Russia’s president Vladimir Putin was expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on a visit to Ankara on Thursday.
Syrian rebel officials says Turkey wants to get the approval of Moscow, the power with the dominant role in Syria, to press ahead with its widely anticipated plan to deploy troops in Idlib.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by James Dalgleish