Syrian health workers hold opposition flags and roses as in the village of Atme in northern Idlib province on September 16, 2018
Atme (Syria) (AFP) - More than 300 doctors and nurses rallied Sunday in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, urging the international community to protect them against an expected offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Brandishing roses and wearing white coats and blue surgical uniforms, the demonstrators gathered in front of the hospital in Atme, near the border with Turkey, an AFP correspondent reported.
Backed by its ally Russia, the Syrian regime has targeted several areas of Idlib with artillery and air strikes, sometimes hitting hospitals and rescue centres in the country's last major opposition stronghold.
But the intensity of the Russian air strikes has dropped off in recent days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor that gets its information from sources on the ground.
The protesters in Atme, both men and women, waved the flag of the Syrian revolution as well as placards in English that read "UN, protecting us is your responsibility".
Another directly addressed UN Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura, telling him "protecting health worker in Idlib is part of your mission".
"We call for an end to the strikes against hospitals and our protection by the United Nations," said nurse Fadi al-Amur.
"Medical staff are neutral. We treat civilians affected by the Russian and Syrian air strikes," he told AFP.
The United Nations said an air strike on September 6 struck an NGO-backed hospital in Kafr Zita, a town in the neighbouring province of Hama, putting it out of service.
It said information on the location of the hospital had been provided to parties whose aircraft are involved in the conflict in order to avoid such incidents.
Two days after the attack on the hospital in Hama, a strike hit and damaged an underground hospital on the outskirts of Hass in Idlib, according to the Observatory.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that the Syrian regime was not preparing a major offensive on Idlib, and that his government would do everything to protect civilians.
The United Nations and non-governmental organisations have repeatedly warned that such an offensive would unleash a "bloodbath" and "humanitarian catastrophe" in Idlib, which is home to three million people.
The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, when the Assad regime waged a vicious crackdown on pro-democracy protests that evolved into a complex conflict involving jihadists and world powers.
It has killed an estimated 360,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.