BEIRUT (Reuters) – New satellite images show fields, orchards and olive groves burning in northwest Syria, where the army has waged an assault against rebels in their last major stronghold.
Government air strikes, backed by Russia, have focused on the south of Idlib province and nearby parts of Hama, uprooting nearly 250,000 people. The bombing has killed 229 civilians and injured 727 others, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) charity.
The rescue service, which works in opposition territory, said shelling and air raids killed 24 people in villages in the northwest on Tuesday, including children.
In photos by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe Inc, plumes of dark smoke rise from the countryside around al-Habeet village in Idlib and the small town of Kafr Nabouda in Hama.
The before and after images, collected at the start and end of last week, show patches of scorched earth, fields blackened by fire, and clusters of destroyed buildings. Some of the fires appear to be still burning.
Mustafa al-Haj Yousef, head of the Idlib civil defense, said government warplanes had been pounding crop fields, sparking dozens of fires.
Syrian state news agency SANA said on Tuesday that militants had shelled villages in the northern Hama countryside, damaging houses and burning wheat fields.
While al-Habeet is in the hands of insurgents, government forces recaptured Kafr Nabouda on Sunday, the third time it changed hands in the latest fighting. State media said the army seized it from Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front until it broke away from al Qaeda.
The army onslaught in the northwest over the past month marks the most intense escalation between President Bashar al-Assad and his insurgent enemies since last summer.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Editing by Frances Kerry and Dan Grebler)