Northwest Syria fighting damages schools, health facilities

This photo provided Tuesday, May 21, 2019 by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows smoke rising after Syrian government forces targeted the town of al-Habeet, in Idlib province, Syria. Syrian activists and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday, that opposition fighters have recaptured Kfar Nabuda, a village at the edge of the last rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Bombings by Syrian government forces damaged two schools and a health facility in the rebels' last stronghold in the northwest, activists said Thursday, after insurgents successfully hit a power station in a government-held town.

Fighting has raged in the last 48 hours in the region, where insurgents launched a counteroffensive earlier this month, trying to regain territory lost to government forces. The area is among the last controlled by anti-government rebels in Syria's eight-year civil war.

Activists and rescue workers said the government retaliated with an intense air bombing campaign. First responders said dozens of air raids and barrel bombs were dropped on villages and towns south of Idlib, killing at least eight civilians.

Syrian insurgents had recaptured Kfar Nabudah from government forces on Wednesday, two weeks after troops entered it at the start of a ground offensive against the rebels' stronghold.

Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the rebel fighters, said the government is carrying out a "revenge campaign for its defeat" in Kfar Nabudah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ground clashes have subsided but government warplanes carried out more than 60 raids on various parts of southern Idlib, part of the rebel stronghold that spans the province and nearby Hama.

One of the raids knocked out a health facility in Kfar Oweid village, the Observatory said.

Rights groups say that since the offensive was launched in late April, government strikes have hit at least 18 health facilities, including five identified to the government through the United Nations. Some of the facilities were targeted twice.

The White Helmets, a team of first responders, said the raids also targeted two schools in Kfar Nubul and burned crops on several farms.

Syrian Electricity Minister Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutly said Thursday that al-Zara power station in Hama province was back online and linked up to the national grid.

Station manager Mostafa Shantout said a drone operated by insurgents dropped a number of bombs late Wednesday on the station, causing huge damage. He didn't elaborate. The comments by both officials were carried by the official state news agency SANA.

Al-Mustafa denied the fighters targeted the power station. He said the rebels have shelled Hama military airport because it is used to attack their stronghold.