Defying dangers, Idlib residents protest Syria’s Assad
BEIRUT — In cities and towns across Syria’s last opposition-held province, Idlib, residents poured into the streets on Friday to demonstrate against President Bashar Assad’s government in defiance of an expected offensive to retake the territory.
In the provincial capital, Idlib city, and in towns including Kafranbel, Dana, Azaz, Maaret al-Numan, and al-Bab, demonstrators filled the streets after noon prayers and chanted against Assad, raising the tricolor green, white, and black flag that has become the banner of Syria’s 2011 uprising, activists said.
‘‘The rebels are our hope; Turks are our brothers; the terrorists are Bashar, Hezbollah, and Russia,’’ read a banner carried by residents in the village of Kneiset Bani Omar.
‘‘There will be no solution in Syria without Assad’s fall,’’ read another banner carried in the northern village of Mhambel.
Assad’s government and its backers, Russia and Iran, say Idlib is ruled by terrorists, and have threatened to seize it by force.
The province, population 3 million, is the final shelter for close to 1.5 million displaced Syrians who fled fighting in other parts of Syria. Many say they will not return to government-ruled areas.
Government and Russian forces bombed towns and villages in the province earlier this week, killing more than a dozen civilians and damaging two hospitals. But the strikes eased on Wednesday amid talks between Turkey, the opposition’s main regional sponsor, and Russia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are slated to meet Monday, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.