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Russian airstrikes hit rebel-controlled Idlib

After a Russian pilot was killed when his military plane was shot down in Idlib by anti-regime fighters, Russian forces have intensified their airstrikes in the Syrian province. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.

Posted: Feb 6, 2018 5:52 AM
Updated: Feb 6, 2018 5:52 AM

The opposition Syrian National Coalition demanded the United Nations take immediate action Monday to stop what it described as a "barbaric onslaught" by Russian and Syrian forces in the northwestern province of Idlib amid new reports of a chlorine gas attack on civilians in the rebel-held area.

The White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group, said three of its members and six others were injured in a chlorine gas attack in the Idlib town of Saraqeb on Sunday night. The group posted several videos on social media showing men coughing and being put onto stretchers.

Two media activists who spoke to CNN from the nearby town of Kafranbil said they were told that the chlorine attack in Saraqeb had been launched from Syrian helicopters.

CNN could not independently verify these claims or videos. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

The US State Department said it was "gravely alarmed" by allegations of a chemical attack by Syrian forces.

"We implore the international community to speak with one voice, taking every opportunity to publicly pressure the Assad regime, and its supporters, to cease its use of chemical weapons," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday night.

Russia retaliates after pilot shot down

Observers say Russia has ramped up its air campaign in northwest Syria after one of its fighter jets was shot down by rebels on Saturday. The pilot ejected from his aircraft, but died following an exchange of gunfire on the ground.

The rebels said he was killed in a gun fight; on Monday, Russia's defense ministry said the pilot blew himself up with a hand grenade as the fighters closed in on his position.

Russian airstrikes in and around Idlib have killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens more in the last 24 hours, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Many are in critical condition and rescue missions are underway, SOHR added.

The strikes were accompanied by renewed rocket fire and shelling by Syrian government forces, according to SOHR. The two activists CNN spoke to described the attacks as "manic."

The White Helmets said Sunday that the strikes hit a hospital in Maarat al-Numan. Video recorded by rescuers and activists showed infants in incubators on makeshift stretchers being evacuated from the hospital.

Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the strikes were "pinpoint attacks" against "terrorists" prompted by the shooting down of its fighter jet.

"Naturally this tragic incident was followed by decisive actions in order to prevent terrorist activity," Peskov told CNN. "One thing is undeniable: it is an extreme concern that portable anti-aircraft missile systems are in the hands of terrorists. This is a huge danger for all states."

The Russian military has targeted a number of militant groups in Idlib, including al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has a strong presence in the province.

On Monday, the US accused Russia of blocking a UN Security Council statement condemning Sunday's alleged chemical attack. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia fired back, accusing the US and United Kingdom of "slandering" Russia and "spreading a mountain of lies" when it came to chemical weapons accusations.

US State Department spokeswoman Nauert reiterated the charge by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the "ultimate" responsibility for any chemical attacks by the Syrian regime lay with the Russian government.

"By shielding the Syrian regime from accountability, Russia has not lived up to its commitments," she said.

Airstrikes kill dozens in Ghouta

On Monday, dozens of airstrikes in the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta killed at least 29 people, including at least 6 children, according to SOHR.

Various Islamic rebel groups control Eastern Ghouta, and the enclave has been surrounded by Syrian regime forces for more than four years.

Both Eastern Ghouta and Idlib are considered part of the so-called "de-escalation zones" established in May 2017 as part of an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Opposition condemns Russian 'war crimes'

The Syrian National Coalition said Monday that "strict measures need to be taken to put an immediate end to the war crimes and genocide Russia is committing in Syria."

The group, which was first formed in 2012 and comprises a number of different opposition factions, also called on Russia to end its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who it accused in the statement of "committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including with the use of chemical weapons."

"A UN Security Council resolution is also urgently needed to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable, namely the Russian and Assad regimes and its allied foreign militias as well as those who have committed crimes against the Syrian people," the statement added.

'They brought hell to Idlib'

"In the last two days, shelling has intensified. It's manic and unprecedented. It's like they brought hell to Idlib," Raed Fares, one of the media activists CNN spoke to, said from his house in Kafranbil.

"They [Russian and Syrian forces] are targeting vital places: schools, hospitals, and the middle of towns and neighborhoods ... one cannot imagine the scale of destruction," Fares added.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces began to escalate their military offensive against rebel-held areas, including Idlib province and Ghouta, last month.

The Idlib area is home to over 1.1 million of Syria's 6.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs), many of whom escaped other formerly opposition-held areas after they were overrun by government forces, according to UN figures.

Hundreds of thousands are trying to escape the intensified assault and are seeking refuge at makeshift camps near Turkey's border.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
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Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
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Starke228058
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Owen211858
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Jay200932
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Orange188255
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Franklin170335
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Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108736

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287201467
Cuyahoga1157922211
Hamilton813971250
Montgomery525481043
Summit484271001
Lucas43353820
Butler39013606
Stark33332929
Lorain25672505
Warren24591303
Mahoning22370603
Lake21207388
Clermont20117253
Delaware18852136
Licking16662222
Fairfield16574204
Trumbull16548482
Medina15610271
Greene15281248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11913239
Richland11605211
Miami10849225
Wayne9141223
Columbiana9032230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8663122
Tuscarawas8649250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7160179
Hancock6998132
Ross6944161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584549
Lawrence5731102
Jefferson5678158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5348128
Washington5319109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4571112
Madison444266
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432074
Crawford4037110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3855105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359665
Williams348278
Champaign344759
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275265
Henry273467
Holmes2701101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240650
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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Strong to severe storms move through Sunday evening to early Monday morning. Showers and a few storms are likely on Monday.
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