It appears that the final major battle of the Syrian civil war is underway as Russian and Syrian jets pounded rebel positions on the edge of Ibid province.
State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said the government was retaliating against overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib. The shelling late Friday in Mhradah killed nine civilians, according to state media.
But the government and Russian raids targeted a wide swath of rebel-held area in the southern edge of the rebel-held enclave that includes most of Idlib province and northern Hama province.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 30 air raids Saturday on a number of towns and villages in southwestern Idlib and Hama province. The area, which has been targeted over the last few days, overlooks government-controlled areas.
The intense raids forced schools to close in Khan Sheikhoun, an area under attack, according to the Observatory.
What's the big deal about Idib? There are three million people crammed into the province, most of them displaced people from other parts of Syria. There may be 30,000 rebels in Ibid with another 10,000 hardcore terrorists belonging to one of a dozen militias. Taking Ibid province will mean a virtual end to the civil war for Assad, even though it is likely the fighting will go on for years.
As in all asymmetrical warfare these days, the rebels and the terrorists are using civilians as human shields, hiding among the ruins and in small towns and villages. Levering them out of their strongholds could cost hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, according to UN relief agencies.