NewsWorldIn Idlib, a Syrian documents Russia's other war in...

In Idlib, a Syrian documents Russia’s other war in pictures

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Since 2013, Russian air forces, alongside Syrian regime forces, have been intensively bombarding civilian areas in northwestern Syria. Although several ceasefire agreements were signed between 2013 and 2021, the Russian military carried out around tens of thousands of airstrikes targeting civilian areas and dropping illegal munitions. Our Observer lives near Idlib, in northwestern Syria. He describes a gloomy daily life punctuated by bombs. A report published on July 20, 2022 by the NGO Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability (SJAC), a Washington DC-based organization with European and American analysts working with Syrians on the ground, reveals that Russia has conducted dozens of deliberate airstrikes targeting civilians and humanitarian workers in northwestern Syria since 2013. A military tactic using deadly and illegal ammunition, which Russia has also perpetuated in its offensive in Ukraine since March 2022. Thanks to open source video and satellite assets, the report documents 58 “double strikes”. “Double strikes” are carried out in two stages: a ground-to-ground missile is launched in a given area, which leads to a collapse, general panic, possibly injuries, and the mobilization of rescue teams. When the population concentrates in the crisis areas, a second strike, aerial this time, detonates in the same place, killing hundreds of civilians and rescue workers. These strikes were generally carried out by Russian air forces outside areas under the control of the Syrian regime. The last strike of this kind dates from July 22, and killed 7 people, including 5 children, and injured 13, all civilians, in Idlib, in northwestern Syria. Excerpt from the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability report which analyzes amateur videos of Russian double strikes on Al Kamooneh near Idlib on May 5, 2022. The bombardment first targeted an IDP camp, then a school, then a White Helmets truck, killing a total of 45 and injuring dozens. The open-source analysis is consistent with testimonies from aid workers. © Syria Center for Justice and Accountability Contacted by the editorial staff of the France 24 Observers, Mohammed Abdullah, executive director of the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability, author of this report, specifies: Targeting civilian populations and humanitarian workers is at the heart of the strategy in Syria: bombing schools, field hospitals, and cutting off electricity and running water are ways of driving the population to the limit. A civilian killed by a Russian raid on the town of Al Bara in the early morning hours of June 21, 2021. © Photo posted by our Observer on Twitter Russian strikes are far more destructive than those of the regime, because Russian planes are equipped with missiles with a wider impact, in addition to hitting more precise targets. They are also the only ones able to carry out night raids thanks to their cameras and thermal sensors, as we have seen in Aleppo, Idlib or Douma. In 2018, nearly a million Syrians moved to the province of Idlib, driven to flee other areas affected by the double strikes. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), just over 1.6 million people living in Idlib today are internally displaced, or half of the province’s inhabitants. In total, the country has nearly 6.7 million internally displaced people in 2022, the highest figure in the world. READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Syria: on TikTok, the miserable daily life of the displaced from the Idlib camps “On the one hand there are the closed Turkish borders, on the other, the strikes of the Syrian regime and Russia” Our Observer, Muhammad M. (his name has been changed for his security), 27, is a direct witness to these strikes. He lives in the small town of Al Bara, about thirty kilometers south of the city of Idlib, capital of the province. He has been documenting on Twitter since the end of 2020 the daily life of his region, Jabal Zawiya, punctuated by Russian airstrikes, which can go up to ten raids per day. Screenshots from a video posted by our Observer Muhammad M. on Twitter on July 12, 2022: “The bombing did not stop, Russian warplanes carried out 15 air raids on the countryside of Idlib”, writes -he. © Video by Muhammad M. On the morning of August 9, “double” Russian and Syrian strikes dropped around a hundred missiles in the towns of my commune, without causing any casualties. Al Bara was heavily bombarded by “double” strikes on July 20, with many civilians injured. Almost the whole city is destroyed. Wounded from a Russian raid the night of July 20 in a field hospital in Al Bara. © Photo Muhammad M. Airstrikes never really stopped on villages in southern Idlib, especially around Jabal Zawiya. The missiles strike day and night, at random times. We have nowhere to go: on one side are the Turkish borders, on the other the regime and Russian strikes. People have no solution. We have no choice: either to live in the camp for the displaced in a tent or to live in villages which risk being bombed at any moment. Our house was destroyed by a Russian bombardment about two years ago. Today, I live myself with my family in an abandoned house. We live in the only habitable room in the house, which has been burned down. “A Russian missile was dropped on my city on the evening of August 3, but it hasn’t exploded yet,” says Muhammad, who took a photo of it on the morning of August 4. © Photo Muhammad M. I find myself a few kilometers from the contact zone, where Russian, Iranian and Syrian forces as well as pro-regime militias are rampant and bombard the surrounding areas. Muhammad M. has a 3-year-old daughter, who often appears alongside him in the images he sent to the editorial staff, but he wishes not to display his face. On the left, Muhammad and his baby daughter, in front of their house destroyed by airstrikes in 2020. On the right, the house in 2022. © Photo Muhammad M. In an 18-second video, shot last month in his city, Al Bara, Muhammad is standing, facing the camera, his daughter in his arms and his back to the natural landscape that spreads out in the background. We hear a shot ring out, then a detonation in the distance. Muhammad tells his daughter to “look at the camera”, to distract her from the explosion. But her granddaughter watches the explosion and then the large cloud of smoke spread, unfazed. My daughter no longer reacts to the detonations or the hits, even though I try to mentally protect her from the effects it may have. The very day she was born, the hospital was bombed, but luckily she and her mum came out unscathed. Unfortunately, we have been used to air raids for years, there is a general apathy. Humanitarian aid is not at all sufficient, because Idlib receives too many displaced populations in addition to those displaced within the same region. There are several camps around the Bab Al Hawa border crossing [passage transfrontalier entre la Syrie et la Turquie par lequel un couloir humanitaire a été créé par l’ONU en 2021, NDLR], which are totally neglected, with extreme weather in winter and summer, without enough provisions or medicines. In July 2022, Russia vetoed the extension of the Bab Al Hawa humanitarian corridor placed by the UN and humanitarian organizations to provide medical and humanitarian support in the camps and destroyed towns where many diseases are rife. After negotiations under Russian conditions, it was agreed that the Bab Al Hawa humanitarian corridor be extended for only 6 months. “To justify strikes, no evidence is presented, the regime just pretexts written reports without any data ”In a report published at the end of 2021, the Syrian Network for Human Rights denounced at least 16 vetoes by Russia, complacent with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including the veto on the opening of the border crossing of Bab Al Hawa and the chemical weapons used by the regime against its citizens. In parallel, the report indicates that in 2021 alone, Russia carried out no less than 145 air attacks and 400 strikes which targeted villages and agricultural lands focusing on the countryside of Idlib and its surroundings. Fadel Abdulghany is the founder of the SNHR, he explains: The Syrian regime benefits from Russian military aid but also from its legal protection, in the eyes of the UN, in order to bomb without accountability, with complete impunity. Of course, sometimes extremist leaders infiltrate cities, but in this case the Syrian regime and the Russian army must present proof of the existence of terrorist elements before carrying out strikes. This video filmed on July 24 in the city of Suqaylabiyya (Governorate of Hama) shows the moment of a drone strike “of unknown origin” according to the local press. It targeted a group of civilians celebrating an opening mass in an Orthodox church, killing two and injuring several. It is a matter of respecting the principle of fairness in the light of international law, and the ratio between the means employed and the persons or entities targeted: for example, if an attack kills two IS men but also 20 civilians, the ratio is not respected. But no proof is presented, the regime just pretexts written reports without any data, no image of tanks or weapons for example.

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