Syrian government aircraft scattered leaflets over the northern province of Idlib on Wednesday, calling on rebels to hand themselves over and urging foreign fighters to return to their homelands, as regime troops pressed on with the battle to retake areas they had lost to the opposition.
The call came after another bloody day in Syria. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground, said 40 civilians and 70 fighters both regime troops and rebels were killed in clashes nationwide on Tuesday.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has called on opposition fighters in the past to lay down their arms, and it was unlikely Wednesday’s call would be heeded, either by Syrians or foreign fighters battling in the province.
“Abandon your weapons and return to your family,” said one leaflet, aimed at the foreigner fighters. “You have been tricked,” it read, according to a photograph of the leaflet obtained by the Observatory. An Idlib-based activist corroborated the leaflets.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule but escalated into a civil war in response to a brutal government crackdown. Foreign fighters, many of them hard-line Islamists seeking to impose their deeply conservative version of Islam, have also swelled the ranks of rebels. The U.N. estimates that some 93,000 people have been killed so far in the civil war.
The battle for the Idlib province is just one of a series of clashes flaring lately as a concerted push by government forces seeks to dislodge rebels who have seized control of large swaths of the country.
The Observatory also reported clashes Wednesday in the northern province of Aleppo, which abuts the Turkish border and serves as a rebel gateway for bringing in weapons and supplies.
There was also fighting in towns on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, and the southern province of Daraa. Syrian troops, alongside fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group, were encircling the neighbourhoods of Khaldiyeh and Bab Houd in the central city of Homs, which rebels have held for the past year.