Bloodiest day yet in south Syria offensive

BEIRUT: A barrage of Russian strikes on rebel-held towns in southern Syria killed 22 civilians on Thursday, the bloodiest day yet of the government’s latest offensive in the strategic region.
With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s army has battered the south for more than a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs.
The bombardment has forced more than 45,000 people to flee in search of safety, according to the United Nations, while others huddle in their basements to wait out the raids.
On Thursday, dozens of air strikes identified as Russian killed 22 civilians, a monitor said, mostly in the town of Al Mseifra.
“One of them hit a basement where people were taking shelter, killing 17 civilians, including five children,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Russian air raids struck near the hospital in Al Mseifra on Tuesday night, causing damage that forced medics to close it down, the Observatory said.
The monitor determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns.
Another five civilians were killed in other rebel-controlled areas of Daraa, the main province in southern Syria.
“This is the highest toll since the escalation began on June 19,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that it brought the overall civilian toll since then to 93.
A doctor in Daraa’s western countryside said his staff were preparing for an influx of critically wounded from Al Mseifra.
“Because there are no medical services in the eastern countryside and because of the security situation, most of the wounded will be brought to us in the west,” said Baha Mahameed, who manages the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM)’s operations in the south.
UOSSM said one of its medical staff was killed late on Wednesday in an air strike in Daraa province, the third killed there in less than a week.
The government offensive has already forced five hospitals to close in the past week, including three in the past 48 hours, the Observatory said. Syria has become infamous for attacks on health workers, with more facilities hit so far this year than in all of 2017. Rebels hold a horseshoe-shaped band of territory in the south spanning most of Daraa and Quneitra province to west. — AFP