News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

September 30, 2020

Written by

Airwars Syria team and Shihab Halep

At least 17 nations have intervened militarily in Syria in recent years. In their own words, Syrians describe the often devastating consequences for civilians.

In 1996, the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked by reporter Lesley Stahl about sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Stahl asked. The Secretary of State responded: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

Airwars data collected from local sources indicates that since 2014, at least 15,000 civilians were likely killed as a result of airstrikes and shelling from at least 17 foreign powers fighting within Syria, including members of the US-led Coalition; Russia; Iran; Turkey; and Israel. Thousands more have been injured. Here the Airwars Syria team asks: has the price paid by civilians been worth it?

For some Syrians, the intervention of so many foreign powers in Syria has its origins in the Assad government’s mishandling of mass demonstrations in the early days of a national uprising. Jala, a Syrian woman now living in London, told Airwars “Had the crisis been managed correctly by the Syrian regime back in 2011, and had the regime focused on a political solution and refrained from using power against its own people and from deploying the army in Dara’a, the intervening powers wouldn’t have found a pretext, and we wouldn’t be talking about the intervention now.”

Reasons for the intervention of so many foreign powers in Syria vary widely. For Russia, assistance to the Assad government has helped deliver long dreamt of access to a Mediterranean port. For Iran, its costly efforts to ensure the survival of the Syrian regime while seeking to promote a regional anti-Israel axis have been paramount. For the United States and its Coalition allies, a desire to defeat the terrorist group Islamic State has more recently been supplemented by a desire to counter Iranian and Russian plans for Syria. President Erdogan of Turkey has used the chaos of Syria’s wars to impose a buffer zone in northern Syria and disrupt Kurdish efforts to carve out a new state. And Israel, although not involved in the ground conflict, has nevertheless conducted hundreds of airstrikes against both Iranian and Hezbollah forces within Syria in recent years.

With so many foreign powers and their proxy actors fighting within Syria, this chart by analyst Charles Lister from 2016 indicates the sheer complexity of the situation.

This *simple* chart shows all states of hostility currently being played out on #Syria’s territory#IntractableWar pic.twitter.com/1inprNB6U0

— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) February 13, 2016

The US-led Coalition and civilian harm

Without the intervention of so many foreign powers in Syria, the recent history of the nation would have looked very different. Starved of Russian and Iranian support, the Assad government would most likely have been overrun by rebel forces. ISIS would also likely have surged, using the vast arsenal of weapons it had captured in Iraq during 2014 to occupy more and more Syrian territory.

So did the international intervention save the Syrian peoples? Or instead has it elongated and exacerbated the conflict, and consequently the suffering of civilians?

Following an earlier military intervention in Syria by Iran in support of the Assad government, six years ago this week the US-led Coalition launched its first airstrikes in Syria on September 23rd 2014, targeting both the so-called Islamic State that now controlled vast swathes of Syria; and also al-Qaeda’s local Syrian faction. Dozens of strikes by US, Saudi, Emirati and Jordanian aircraft that day – as well as Tomahawk missiles fired from US warships – led to the Coalition’s first reported massacre of civilians in Syria in Kafar Dryan. The Coalition still denies civilian casualties in that attack.

According to Airwars data gathered from local sources on the ground since 2014, the long running Coalition campaign against ISIS in Syria has so far likely killed at least 5,658 civilians, a high proportion of whom were women and children. Almost four thousand more civilians have reportedly been injured. The alliance itself presently concedes 671 non combatants killed by its actions.

Hasan Al-Kassab is an activist from Raqqa, who worked in the research unit of the Euphrates Project which funds many reconstruction and body retrieval projects in Raqqa. Hasan told Airwars that he lost two of his uncles during the Coalition’s Raqqa campaign in 2017. One uncle, Abdul Latif Hasan Al-kassab, was taking water from the Euphrates river when a Coalition airstrike targeted the area on June 25th 2017. His uncle was immediately killed along with two other civilians. His other uncle died when another Coalition airstrike targeted a building in Raqqa days before the city was liberated. “There is no mechanism to contact the Coalition who I believe is responsible for the death of my two uncles to investigate their death,” says Hasan today.

Additionally, Hasan told Airwars that the Initial Response Team in Raqqa has so far found 28 mass graves in Raqqa, containing more than 6,000 bodies, with two thirds of them believed to be civilians.

Destruction in Raqqa city in 2017, following the Coalition’s successful campaign to oust ISIS (Picture via Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently)

Zain Al-Abidin Al-A’kedi, an activist from Deir Ezzor living in northern Syria, told Airwars that he believes that the Coalition’s intervention against ISIS in Syria was necessary, but had come too late. “The wasted time led to an increase in the number of deaths and casualties by ISIS and the US-led Coalition airstrikes, in addition to huge damage in the cities and towns,” Zain said.

Firas Hanosh, an activist from Raqqa and a former doctor with Medecins Sans Frontières in one of Raqqa’s field hospitals, also believes that the US-led Coalition intervention in Syria was necessary, because local forces were unable to defeat ISIS. However, he argues that the Coalition’s choice of the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as its ground proxy was a mistake. “The US-led Coalition didn’t choose the right partner on the ground (SDF) , which is racist against the Arab civilians.” Firas told Airwars that it is unsafe for him to return to his ravaged home city. He says he is also worried about being arrested by the SDF, because of his work as an activist monitoring the situation in Raqqa.

Wary of intervening on the ground in Syria or getting involved in the civil war, the US still needed to combat ISIS. It therefore turned to the Kurds – initially helping the newly formed SDF to drive out ISIS from its own areas. “Without the Coalition’s intervention forces, we would have lost Kobane, Qamishli and other Kurdish areas.” Dlshad, a Syrian cyber security engineer now living in Washington DC ,said. However, as the SDF then advanced against ISIS in primarily Arabic-population territory, tensions rose.

Other Syrians believe the US and its allies had hidden motives. Jala, a Syrian woman now living in London, believes that the US intervention in Syria, though declared to be against ISIS, was in fact aimed at controlling the oil fields of North East Syria. President Trump has done little to dispel this view, and US troops today occupy many of Syria’s oil fields.

Assad’s allies: Russia and Iran in Syria

Even as the US-led Coalition was ramping up its attacks against ISIS in Syria, the regime was losing badly on the ground to rebel forces. Reports estimated that despite Iranian and Hezbollah support, Bashar al-Assad held only 25% of Syria by late 2015. Assad asked for support from his Russian allies – leading to Moscow’s largest foreign intervention since its disastrous Afghanistan campaign of 1979-1989. The outcome in Syria would prove to be very different.

The first Russian airstrikes in Syria took place on September 30th 2015, targeting the towns of Za`faranah, Talbisah and Ar-Rastan in Homs; and Al Makrmeya and Jisr al Shughour in Idlib. From the first day, the effects on civilians were devastating. At least 43 civilians reportedly died in Russia’s initial airstrikes – with more than 150 more injured.

A BBC map from 2015 indicates how little territory the Assad government still held before Russia’s armed intervention.

Accused of indifference to civilian harm from its actions in Syria – and even the deliberate targeting of communities – Moscow has yet to admit to a single civilian death in five years of war. Airwars monitoring has so far recorded 4,487 locally reported problem airstrikes by Russia in partnership with the Assad government from 2015 to 2020 – which between them reportedly led to the deaths of as many as 22,000 non combatants, and the injuring of up to 40,000 more.

“The Russian intervention in Syria is not new,” argues Dlshad, a cyber security engineer now living in Washington DC: “I come from Rmeilan city which is rich with oil, and the Russians have been in the city for a long time.” That said, Dlshad believes the Russian intervention both extended the life of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime – and in some cases curbed his actions. He argues for example that Assad would have been more brutal against his own people without Russian control.

“The Russian military involvement changed the military equation,” argues Abdulkarim Ekzayez, a Research Associate at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London and himself a Syrian: “Large-scale aerial attacks on vital infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and bakeries have weakened the resilience of the targeted communities in opposition held areas. Consequently the regime was able to take control over most of the opposition pockets in central and southern Syria, pushing all opposition factions into the north west with clearly defined contact lines between the two warring parties.”

Mohammed Al Fares, the nom de plume of a humanitarian worker living in Idlib, believes that the Russians have followed a systematic plan to target civilians in Syria – something the US-led Coalition tried to avoid, he says. However, Jala believes that none of the actors in the Syrian conflict cared deeply about civilians, including Syrian fighters on the ground because they focused only on achieving military gains and not on civilians.

The other key ally of the Assad government, Iran, has taken a different approach. Years of sanctions have left it with a poorly equipped air force. Instead Tehran’s efforts in Syria focused on its domestic rocket and drone programmes, in turn channelling them to both Hezbollah and to the Syrian regime.

In addition, Iranian ground forces have played a key role in the fighting. The Quds Brigade is known to be involved at a senior level in the Syrian conflict and even in changing the structure of the Syrian army. The Syrian 4th Brigade is close to Iran for example, while the 5th Brigade has closer links to Russian forces.

Qassem Soleimani, the former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, pictured near Aleppo’s historic castle after the city’s capture from rebels (Image via Zaman al Wasl)

Unilateral interventions in Syria

With a weak government in Damascus, multiple foreign powers have for years conducted unilateral actions in Syria in support of their own national interests. The United States has long targeted al Qaeda-linked fighters in western Syria for example; while the British conducted a controversial targeted killing of a UK citizen in 2015. Two nations in particular have fought lengthy unilateral campaigns.

Turkey has launched several massive operations in North East Syria, alongside its earlier targeting of ISIS in Idlib. In January 2018, Ankara launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, and later Operation Peace Spring in October 2019.

Overall, hundreds of Syrian civilians have been locally reported killed by Turkish actions – both against Kurdish forces, and ISIS-occupied areas such as al Bab.

Syrians interviewed for this article were strongly opposed to Turkey’s interventions. “There was no threat against Turkey. Why did Turkey intervene? Turkey is racist against the Kurds and that’s it,” claimed Dlshad.

H.J, a female architect from Damascus who asked not to be fully named for safety reasons, argued: “Syrians thought that Erdogan was helping the Syrian cause, but he eventually used it as a bargaining chip with Europe; causing destruction and division between Arabs and Kurds, and turning Syrian youth into mercenaries”.

Israel’s own unilateral aerial campaign in Syria has proved devastating against both Iranian and Hezbollah forces. In early 2019, a senior Israeli commander declared that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had dropped more than 2,000 bombs on Syria during the previous year, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu said that “the IDF has attacked hundreds of times Iranian and Hezbollah targets.”

Despite the significant scale of Israel’s intervention, international attention has been limited. This may in part be due to the low levels of reported civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Syria compared with other foreign powers. Since 2019, Airwars monitoring indicates that between 13 and 22 civilians were killed and over 40 injured in nine Israeli airstrikes of concern. With its focus in Syria almost exclusively on military targets, Israel appears to have limited the widescale civilian harm seen in the actions of others.

According to Mohammed Al Fares, a Syrian spoken to for this article, “It is good that Israel is destroying the regime’s military installations. However, they are doing it because they don’t want Iran to get an upper hand in Syria, not for the sake of the Syrian people.”

The reverberating effects of foreign intervention

Years of conflict in Syria, combined with external intervention by at least 17 foreign powers, have changed the face of the country for ever. According to the UNHCR, there are 6.2 million people, including 2.5 million children, currently internally displaced within Syria, the largest such population in the world. Beyond Syria’s borders, the total number of registered Syrian refugees has so far reached 5.5 million.

The direct links between external interventions and the displacement of civilians can be challenging to unpack.

In North East Syria for example actions by rebels; by ISIS; and later by Turkish forces, saw more than 215,000 people driven from their homes. While many have returned, an estimated 100,000 remain displaced.

Similarly, Syrian Arab Army operations supported from the air by Russia have proved highly disruptive. During the last major campaign between December 2019 and March 2020 in North West Syria, the UN reported a new displacement of more than 960,000 people, including more than 575,000 children.

Humanitarian worker Mohammed Al Fares, himself an IDP, told Airwars about his own experience. “When you are forced outside your residence, you die slowly. You lose everything, your home, your land, your job and your money. You try to start over and build a new life, but it is difficult.”

A Syrian woman pictured in an IDP camp in north east Syria (Picture courtesy of Refugees International)

The destruction of Syria’s infrastructure over the past nine years has also been extreme – much of it the result of foreign actions. Among the most brutal examples have been Aleppo and Raqqa – the first significantly at the hands of Russian forces; the latter mostly as a result of  the US-led Coalition’s targeting of ISIS. According to ReliefWeb: “About a third of homes in Syria were thought to have been damaged or destroyed by 2017. In 2018, the UN estimated the cost of material destruction in Syria at $120 billion.”

Hasan Al-Kassab told Airwars that eleven bridges in Raqqa were destroyed including Raqqa’s New Bridge during the Coalition’s 2017 campaign, and that civilians are only slowly starting to return because of a lack of basic services. For example, 60% of Raqqa is still without electricity.

East Aleppo, which witnessed brutal bombing by the Assad government supported by its Russian ally, experienced a similar fate. Battles which began in  2012 reached their climax in November 2016, when SAA troops began a decisive campaign that ended a month later with the retaking of the city. This caused very significant damage to Aleppo.

H.J, the architect from Damascus, believes that the destruction in Syria has been systemic and not just ‘collateral damage’ as militaries claim. “The destruction caused by all different actors is called many things, of which: Urbicide/ Identicide. That is, to commit a massacre against the urban environment; to target relationships that connect people and places, erasing their identities. Nowadays, one third of Syria is destroyed, and about 80% of Syria’s Night lights are gone.”

Significant opposition remains from many countries to the reconstruction process in Syria while Bashar al-Assad remains in power. However, the US is implementing small scale rebuilding activities in areas under SDF control, focusing on basic services like water, electricity and rubble removal that don’t reach the level of reconstruction. At the same time, with Russia and Iran unable significantly to support the regime financially as it seeks to rebuild Syria, limited scale investments risk lining the pockets of warlords, profiteers and cronies.

A price worth paying?

Mohammed Al Fares believes that overall, external intervention by so many foreign powers has had a negative impact on the course of the Syrian revolution, and on the general situation in the country. “Syrians had been in a state of solidarity with each other when the revolution started and [they eventually] controlled about 70% of Syria. External intervention including money channelling, divided the Syrians and brought into the decision making people who were not fit to lead. This in turn made the revolution very political until it lost its momentum. However, the revolution continues with its youth, women, elders and children despite all the obstacles it faces”

However others see more subtlety. According to Hasan Al-Kassab from Raqqa: “We can’t put all the interventions in the same basket. The Coalition intervened to eliminate ISIS, Russia intervened to oppress the people and legitimise the regime against the civilians, while Turkey intervened to fight the PKK and secure its borders. However every intervention is still an occupation, because there is no mechanism to give oversight to the people. They built military bases and disturbed the fabric of the Syrian people.”

From her side, H.J, the female architect from Damascus, argues that after the regime started killing civilians in 2012, the Syrian people tolerated even ‘allying with the devil’ to oust Bashar Al-Assad. ‘’I didn’t personally support this opinion, but we needed any offerings, we naively thought that the world would help us without anything in return. We were wrong, and all interventions were bad. The country was divided, and military bases were established.”

With peace still nowhere in sight in Syria – and fighting likely to resume as the Covid pandemic recedes – there is little sign of foreign powers withdrawing any time soon. While their interventions have radically changed conflict dynamics, they have done little to support the Syrian peoples in their aspirations for freedom and justice. Yet if the same kind of resource spent by foreign powers on bombs and missiles could one day be diverted to Syria’s infrastructure development, to education, and to the fostering of civil society, another future remains possible.

▲ Syria's Bashar al-Assad in the cockpit of a Russian Su-35 fighter at Hmeimim air base, Latakia in December 2017 (Image via Syrian regime Facebook page)

Published

July 9, 2020

Written by

Airwars Staff

Killing of Iranian commander by US drone strike represents 'not just a slippery slope. It is a cliff', warns Special Rapporteur

The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in Baghdad in January 2020, was unlawful on several counts, according to a new report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council by its expert on extrajudicial killings.

Dr Agnes Callamard, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, asserts in her latest report that Soleimani’s controversial assassination by a US drone strike on Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd 2020 had violated international law in several ways.

Noting that the US drone strike had also killed several Iraqi military personnel, Dr Callamard notes that “By killing General Soleimani on Iraqi soil without first obtaining Iraq’s consent, the US violated the territorial integrity of Iraq.”

The Special Rapporteur also argues that by failing to demonstrate that Soleimani represented an imminent threat to the United States – and instead focusing on his past actions dating back to 2006 – that his killing “would be unlawful under jus ad bellum“, the criteria by which a state may engage in war.

In the bluntest condemnation yet of the Trump Administration’s killing of Iran’s leading military commander, Dr Callamard argues that “the targeted killing of General Soleimani, coming in the wake of 20 years of distortions of international law, and repeated massive violations of humanitarian law, is not just a slippery slope. It is a cliff.”

She also warns that the killing of Iran’s top general may see other nations exploit the US’s justification for the assassination: “The international community must now confront the very real prospect that States may opt to ‘strategically’ eliminate high ranking military officials outside the context of a ‘known’ war, and seek to justify the killing on the grounds of the target’s classification as a ‘terrorist’ who posed a potential future threat.”

Speaking to Airwars from Geneva ahead of her presentation to the UNHRC, Dr Callamard described the US killing of General Soleimani as “a significant escalation in the use of armed drones, and in the use of extraterritorial force. Until now, drones have focused on terrorism and on counterterrorism responses. Here we’re seeing the displacement of a counterterrorism strategy onto State officials.” She described the Trump administration’s justification of the assassination of a senior Iranian government official as “a distortion of self defence.”

Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s highest ranked military commander, was assassinated in a US drone strike near Baghdad on January 3rd 2020 (via @IRaqiRev).

‘The second drone age’

Dr Callamard’s denouncement of the US’s killing of Qasem Soleimani marks the latest in almost 20 years of concerns raised by United Nations experts on the use of armed drones for targeted assassinations. In 2002, following the killing of five al Qaeda suspects in Yemen by the CIA, then-rapporteur Asma Jahangir warned for example that the attack constituted “a clear case of extrajudicial killing”.

UN reports since then have tended to focus on controversial drone campaigns outside the hot battlefield, in countries including Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip.

With her new report, delivered to the UNHRC on July 9th, Dr Callamard seeks to bring the discussion on armed drone use up to date, noting that “the world has entered what has been called the ‘second drone age’ with a now vast array of State and non-State actors deploying ever more advanced drone technologies, making their use a major and fast becoming international security issue.” The term ‘second drone age’ was originally coined by Airwars director Chris Woods, to reflect a growing wave of armed drone proliferation among state and non-state actors.

My latest report to the UN #HRC44 focus on targeted killings by armed drones: https://t.co/qLsqubaMpA The world has entered a “second drone age”, in which State and non-State actors are deploying ever more advanced drone technologies, a major international, security issue.

— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) July 8, 2020

 

As Dr Callamard and her team write: “The present report seeks to update previous findings. It interrogates the reasons for drones’ proliferation and the legal implications of their promises; questions the legal bases upon which their use is founded and legitimized; and identifies the mechanisms and institutions (or lack thereof) to regulate drones’ use and respond to targeted killings. The report shows that drones are a lightning rod for key questions about protection of the right to life in conflicts, asymmetrical warfare, counter-terrorism operations, and so-called peace situations.”

Many of the conflicts monitored by Airwars are referenced by Dr Callamard.

    In Iraq, she notes that non state actors including ISIS deployed armed drones, sometimes to devastating effect. “In 2017 in Mosul, Iraq, for example, within a 24-hour period ‘there were no less than 82 drones of all shapes and sizes’ striking at Iraqi, Kurdish, US, and French forces.” In Libya, the Special Rapporteur asserts that “The Haftar Armed Forces carried out over 600 drone strikes against opposition targets resulting allegedly in massive civilian casualties, including, in August 2019, against a migrant detention center.” Callamard notes that a ‘nations unwilling or unable to act’ defence – first used by George W Bush’s administration to justify drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere – had been employed by several nations, including Turkey and Israel, to justify attacks in Syria. The UN Special Rapporteur also cautions that as more States acquire armed drones, their use domestically has increased: “Turkey has reportedly used drones domestically against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), while Nigeria first confirmed attack was carried out against a Boko Haram logistics base in 2016. In 2015 Pakistan allegedly used its armed drones for the very first time in an operation to kill three ‘high profile terrorists.’ Iraq has similarly purchased drones to carry out strikes against ISIS in Anbar province in 2016.” Finally, Dr Callamard warns that non-State actors including terrorist groups increasingly have access to remotely piloted technologies – noting that “At least 20 armed non-State actors have reportedly obtained armed and unarmed drone systems.”

“Drones are now the weapon of choice for many countries. They are claimed to be both surgical and to save lives – though we have insufficient evidence to conclude either,” Dr Callamard told Airwars. “Drones may save the lives of ‘our’ soldiers – but on the ground is another matter.”

Civilian harm concerns

The UN Special Rapporteur’s latest report highlights concerns about ongoing risks to civilians from armed drone use. Citing multiple studies, she writes that “even when a drone (eventually) strikes its intended target, accurately and ‘successfully’, the evidence shows that frequently many more people die, sometimes because of multiple strikes.”

Callamard also cautions that “Civilian harm caused by armed drone strikes extends far beyond killings, with many more wounded. While the consequences of both armed and non-combat drones remain to be systematically studied, evidence shows that the populations living under ‘drones’ persistent stare and noise experience generalized threat and daily terror’.”

The UN’s expert on extrajudicial killings additionally notes the key role drones play in helping militaries to determine likely civilian harm: “Without on-the-ground, post-strike assessment, authorities rely on pre- and post-strike drone-video feeds to detect civilian casualties leaving potentially significant numbers of civilian casualties, including of those misidentified as ‘enemies’, undiscovered. Studies showed that in Syria and Iraq the initial military estimates missed 57% of casualties.”

The Special Rapporteur does however point out that civilian harm can be reduced by militaries, “through stronger coordination, improved data analysis, better training of drones’ operators, and systematic evaluation of strikes.”

▲ Aftermath of US drone strike on Baghdad International Airport in January 2020 which assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani (via Arab48).

Incident Code

IRS005

Incident date

June 12, 2020

Location

الفوعه, Al Fou’a, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

Five children were reportedly injured in alleged Iranian airstrikes on the town of Al Fou’a, Idlib governorate, on June 12th, 2020, according to conflicting reports.

@FdzPWRe6ruAGFPd tweeted that “five children were injured due to an unknown explosion in the town of Al Fou’a in the northern countryside of Idlib. Conflicting reports stated that it was an Iranian reconnaissance plane destroying a missile targeting the area.”

@ShabhaPress reported that the five children were targeted in a drone strike from an unidentified belligerent.

Shaam News Network reported that a small reconnaissance plane was deliberately targeting the town with a “suicide bomb”. SNN also did not identify the culprit.

Currently, further information is unavailable to Airwars.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (3) [ collapse]

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (3) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4043 IRS004

Incident date

January 1, 2020

Location

سرمين, Sarmin, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

Nine civilians including six children and two women were reported killed, and 16 others including three children and three women – one of whom was pregnant – were injured in an alleged Russian, Iranian forces or Syrian regime shelling with a cluster missile or a rocket carrying cluster bombs on ‘Martyr Abdou al Sheikh Salameh Primary School’ and the surrounding area in Sarmin, Idlib, Syria on January 1st, 2020 according to local sources.

The Smart News Agency said the shelling targeted the school, a nearby kindergarten and a market.

The victims included a teacher and four students, two of whom were IDPs originally from Ma’arat Al Nu’man, as some sources said the school housed IDPs.

Three children victims have been identified so far. Hoor Ismail Serjawi, Yahya Raed Sarmini and Abdelkader (family name not available yet). In addition, Muhammad Yahya Al-Bassas (age unknown) was also killed.

The Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) in Idlib described the attack as a “massacre”, and posted: “Abdelkader’s mother sent her child to school to learn, despite the inherent dangers because she wanted him to have an education. Today [Jan 1st] regime forces killed Abdelkader, four of his friends, and two of his teachers, after they targeted their school in Sarmin City in Idlib with cluster bombs.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) expected the death toll to rise since ten of the injured including the pregnant woman were left in a critical condition.

While some sources said the attack was launched from the Mediterranean, referring to the Russian forces, others said it was launched from Sinjar area in Idlib where the Syrian regime army operates.  However, Nors for Studies said it was likely initiated by the Iranian forces from Aleppo’s southern countryside.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    7 – 9
  • (4–6 children1–2 women2 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    15–16
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Armed Forces, Iranian Armed Forces, Syrian Regime Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Assad regime, Iranian military

Sources (31) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (38) [ collapse]

  • SCD volunteer rescuing a civilian after the shelling on a school in Sermin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via Horrya Press).
  • SCD volunteers rescuing casualties of the shelling on Sarmin in Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via SCD).
  • SCD volunteers rescuing casualties of the shelling on Sarmin in Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via SCD).
  • A civilian injured in the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on Sarmin in Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via SCD).
  • Translation: "8 civilians were killed including 4 children and 2 women and 16 others injured, on the morning of Wednesday, as a result of attacking a school in the center of Sarmin town east of Idlib with a rocket carrying cluster bombs. The shelling that hit the school which was full of students and teachers resulted in a massacre of children and women."
  • An image of the school that was targeted with the shelling on Sarmin in Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC).
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC)
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC)
  • A van affected by the shelling that took place on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC).
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC)
  • Civilians reported injured and killed in the shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (MMC)
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020 (via MMC)
  • Images showing the school that was targeted with shelling in Sarmin (via MMC)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Civilians reported injured and killed in the shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (MMC)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Hoor Serjawi was reported killed in the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via MMC)
  • The aftermath of the strike on Sarmin, Jan 1st 2020.
  • Mother of Abdelakder, a child killed in the attack, is paying farewell to her son (via SCD).
  • Aftermath of the shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via IdlibPlus)
  • Civilians including children reported killed and injured on the shelling on a school in Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via IdlibPlus).
  • Aftermath of the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via IdlibPlus)
  • Images of the missile allegedly used in shelling the school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via IdlibPlus)
  • Images of the school building allegedly targeted with a Russian or Iranian missile (via EMC)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A child killed in the shelling on the school in Sarmin, Idlib (via EMC)
  • Aftermath of the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. ( (via EMC)
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020. (via EMC)
  • Aftermath of the attack on the school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via EMC)
  • Van directly affected by the shelling of the school and its surrounding in Sarmin in Idli. (via EMC)
  • Images of the missile used in the shelling on a school in Idlib Jan 1st, 2020. (via EMC)
  • Aftermath of the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via EMC)
  • SCD Rescuing civilians including children killed and injured in the shelling on the school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020. (via @ShahbaPress)
  • Abdulkader was reported killed in the attack on a school in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via @abuhuzaifa)
  • AbdulQader's mother paying farewell to her child who got killed in the attack on the school (via @abuhuzaifa).
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A child killed in the attack (copyright Smart, published in the public interest).
  • Civilians reported killed and injured in the shelling on the school. (copyright Smart, published in the public interest)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    The school targeted in the shelling (copyright Smart, published in the public interest)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Civilians killed and injured in the attack (copyright Smart, published in the public interest)
  • Victims of the alleged Russian, Iranian or Syrian regime shelling on a school and its surrounding in Sarmin, Idlib on Jan 1st, 2020 (via SN4HR)
  • Image of the targeted school (via SOHR)

Russian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Armed Forces
  • Russian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Regime Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime Armed Forces
  • Syrian Regime Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    7 – 9
  • (4–6 children1–2 women2 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    15–16
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Armed Forces, Iranian Armed Forces, Syrian Regime Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Assad regime, Iranian military

Sources (31) [ collapse]

Incident Code

IRS003 R3949A

Incident date

November 20, 2019

Location

مخيم قاح, Qah refugee camp, near Syrian-Turkish border, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

In a major civilian harm incident, up to 30 civilians including seven children and three women (many of whom were from the same family) died and up to 50 more were wounded in an alleged Assad regime or Iranian strike on Qah refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, according to multiple local sources.

The Step News Agency reported: “Iranian militia based in the Iranian base of Jabal Azzan in the southern Aleppo countryside on Wednesday targeted a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Qah on Wednesday [Nov 20th]

“The reporter cluster land-to-ground missiles shelled the area, striking a gathering of displaced persons tents. This resulted in the deaths of seven civilian and injury of dozens more in an initial count”.

@IdlibPlus also blamed “Iranian militias”, while Nors For Studies said that a huge explosion “was caused by cluster munitions fired from al-Assad and Iran militia”.

Other sources, including the Smart News Agency, blamed the regime. According to Smart, “Dozens of civilians were killed and wounded Wednesday [Nov 20th] in rocket shelling  by Syrian regime forces on a camp for displaced people in Qah village (50 km north of Idlib) near the Syrian-Turkish border.”

@abuhuzaifa_ tweeted that a Russian missile was fired by Iranian militia. However, the Syrian Human Rights Committee blamed the Russians for the incident reporting on Dec 11th 2019 that “In Idlib Governorate, a child died from wounds caused by a previous Russian bombing targeting the Qah border camp on the Syrian-Turkish border.”

Sources said that “large fires” broke out in tents.

 

 

The local time of the incident is unknown.

The victims were named as:

Family members (3)

  • Nawara Mamoun Qaytum Child from Hass killed
  • Hor Mamoun Qaytum Child female from Hass killed
  • Mother of Nawara Mamoun Qaytum and Hor Mamoun Qaytum killed

Family members (6)

  • Yousef Jamal Asali Child from Al Rami killed
  • Amal Mustafa Asali Child from Al Rami killed
  • Maha Hamza Asali Child from Al Rami killed
  • Jamal Ismail Asali Child from Al Rami killed
  • Ismail Jamal Asali Adult male from Al Rami killed
  • Hamza Musab al-Ibrahim Child killed

Family members (2)

  • The wife of Hassan Al Diab Adult female killed
  • Rima Hassan Al-Diab Child female from Kafr Zita killed
  • Maysa Nazir al-Yahya Adult female from Hass killed
  • Lamia Abboud Adult female from Hass. May the wife of Hassan Al Diab killed
  • Sana Ahmed Moussa Adult female killed
  • Diab Mounir Adult male from Qah killed
  • Nouria Kaddour 50 years old female killed
  • Massa Hamida Al Khaled 43 years old female killed
  • Zahra Abdel Sattar Qentar 40 years old female killed
  • Abdo Abdel Fattah 12 years old male killed
  • Abdul Karim al-Da’ef Child male Later died from his wounds. killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    16 – 30
  • (7 children7 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    12–50
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Iranian Armed Forces, Russian Armed Forces, Syrian Regime Armed Forces

Sources (35) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (17) [ collapse]

  • The aftermath of the alleged Iranian strike on Qah refugee camp, Nov 20th.
  • "Images of remnants of the rocket fired on a camp for displaced people in Qah, north of Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkish border"
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Translation: "The number of martyrs in the massacre of Qah refugee camp increased to 12, including 7 children, 3 women and 30 injured in an untold toll, bringing the number of martyrs throughout Idlib on Wednesday to 20 civilians and 46 injured"
  • Footage from the aftermath of the strike.
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Translation: "Some of the pictures of children who were killed by the bombing of Iranian militias on the camp".
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Further footage of the aftermath of the strike.
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Further footage of the aftermath of the strike.
  • "According to sources: Rockets originating from defense factories east of Aleppo hit Qah camp north of Idlib" (via SO4HR)
  • The White Helmets said "large fires" broke out in tents following the strike on Qah camp (via White Helmets)
  • Fires at Qah refugee camp following the Nov 20th strike (via EMC)
  • Fires at Qah refugee camp following the Nov 20th strike (via EMC)
  • Fires at Qah refugee camp following the Nov 20th strike (via EMC)
  • Fires at Qah refugee camp following the Nov 20th strike (via EMC)
  • The aftermath of an alleged regime strike on Qah camp, Nov 20th (via EMC)
  • The aftermath of an alleged regime strike on Qah camp, Nov 20th (via EMC)
  • The aftermath of an alleged regime strike on Qah camp, Nov 20th (via EMC)
  • Abdul Karim al-Da’ef (via White Helmets)

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Russian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Armed Forces
  • Russian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Regime Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime Armed Forces
  • Syrian Regime Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    16 – 30
  • (7 children7 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    12–50
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Iranian Armed Forces, Russian Armed Forces, Syrian Regime Armed Forces

Sources (35) [ collapse]

Incident Code

TI024a IRI003

Incident date

July 10, 2019

Location

Balakati and Bradost, Erbil, Iraq

Geolocation

36.735469, 44.387908 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Nearby landmark

Airwars assessment

Two civilians were reportedly killed in a Turkish or Iranian strike on Balakati and Bradost.

ANF wrote: “The attacks carried out on Balakati and Bradost by Iran and Turkey that began on July 10 and in which 2 civilians lost their lives and four were wounded, continued yesterday.

On Thursday morning after 9 am Iranian and Turkish army hit the Balakati and Bradost regions throughout the day with intense howitzers, mortars and katusha, following coordinates given by Iranian reconnaissance planes.

Although the villagers tried to extinguish the fire in the fields which had resulted from the bombardment, hundreds of hectares of land were burning and thousands of trees and live in the natural area burned to ashes.”

There is currently no other information available.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Single source claim
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2
  • Civilians reported injured
    4
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attackers
    Iranian Armed Forces, Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (1) [ collapse]

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Single source claim
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2
  • Civilians reported injured
    4
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attackers
    Iranian Armed Forces, Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (1) [ collapse]

Incident Code

IRS002

Incident date

October 1, 2018

Location

هجين , Between the town of Hajin and the village of Abu al Hassan, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least five and as many as eight people – either civilians or ISIS fighters – were killed in an Iranian missile and air strike near Hajin.

According to local site Jarf News, at least five civilians were killed and more than 10 others were wounded between Hajin and the neighboring village of Abu al-Hassan, east of Deir al-Zour.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the attack “resulted in the death of eight people, though it was unknown whether they were all members of the organization [ISIS] or if they included people from the families of ISIS members”.

But Horrya quoted sources who said that the locations bombed were civilian areas with no ISIS headquarters.

According to reports, the attack involved six ballistic missiles launched from Iran, as well as airstrikes by Iranian drones. The US later complained that Tehran had failed to warn other belligerents in the vicinity of an impending attack. The action was reportedly part of Iran’s retaliation for recent attacks on its diplomatic facility in Basra, Iraq.
Halab Today published a story in which it claimed that the photograph published in Iranian media of Abu Ali al-Mashhadani, an ISIS commander reportedly killed in the attack, was in fact an image of a “70-year-old Kazakh woman with a moustache and a long beard”.

The source went on to say that “the Al-Alam news channel later deleted the news and the picture, but it still exists on many Iranian news websites, including Aftab, which is close to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, who did not delete the news or the picture”.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    5 – 8
  • (1 woman)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces

Sources (17) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (6) [ collapse]

  • Reported images of Iranian missile launch against ISIS targets in Deir Ezzor (via Free Deir Ezzor)
  • Purported target of Iranian airstrike (via Hajeen Magazine)
  • A supposed ISIS leader killed in the Iranian strike was in fact a 70 year old local bearded woman, according to Halab News and others

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    5 – 8
  • (1 woman)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces

Sources (17) [ collapse]

Incident Code

IRI001

Incident date

September 8, 2018

Location

كوية. كويسنجق, Koya area, Erbil, Iraq

Airwars assessment

Multiple sources reported the death of up to 14 individuals and as many as 42 wounded, allegedly as a result of Iranian bombardment on the Koya area. Most reports did not specify whether or not the victims were civilian.

Shafaq however quoted the First Deputy Secretary-General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who stressed that women and children were among the victims: “Iran, unfortunately, today bombed the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party with missiles that caused the death of dozens of their cadres with a number of civilians, children and women”. Mustafa Al Maady also noted that there were civilians among the wounded individuals.

Mahmoud Shiekh Ibrahim issued a statement in which we noted that the “air missile” came from an “unmanned airplane [that] was spotted flying over Koya city in Kurdistan Iraq near the headquarters of the party.” He confirmed to an Airwars researcher that a woman and child were killed in the attack.

Local sources noted that the target of the strikes was the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in an area between Erbil and Suliamaina. Soon after the attack, the party issued a statement noting that “at 10:48 am on Saturday, September 8, 2018, the headquarters of the Democratic People’s Democratic Party (DPC) office was subjected to missile and aerial bombardment by the Islamic Republic of Iran during a high-level meeting of the Committee Central.”

Media outlet Alittihad quoted a party official, who reported a tally of 14 dead and 42 wounded, including leaders of the party. The same report quoted Mohammed Salah Qaderi, one of the leaders of the party, who stated that the “aircraft has been launched from Kirkuk towards the sky of the region, and that the bombing and the operation of aircraft was in coordination with the forces of popular mobilization in Kirkuk.” Other local sources, reported a tally of 10 perished and 30 wounded.

The incident occured at 10:48 am local time.

Summary

  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 14
  • (1 child1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    30–42
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (7) [ collapse]

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Reported victim of a September 8th Iranian strike at Koya (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)
  • Crowds in Koya following a September 8th Iranian strike (via Ameer Mohammed facebook page)

Iranian Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Iranian Armed Forces
  • Iranian Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 14
  • (1 child1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    30–42
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Iranian Armed Forces

Sources (10) [ collapse]