In what was widely referred to as a “massacre”, at least 13 civilians were killed and over 30 wounded in an alleged Russian or Syrian regime strike on a marketplace in Ariha on October 20th 2021. Most sources said that as many as four children were killed in the strike that took place in the morning as children were on their way to school.
Muntaha.alramahi on Facebook was alone in posting that 14 children had been killed and 63 other civilians wounded. Esmanur.peker.1 said in a Facebook post that there may well be over 50 civilians injured as a result of the strike; most sources put the injury toll at 30 and the death toll at 13.
A medical source told Zaman al-Wasl that “the number of victims is expected to rise due to the loss of some people, and the suffering of some wounded due to their critical conditions,” stressing that “among the victims are displaced people and school students.”
The incident overwhelmed the local hospital, with health workers issuing a distress call that they needed to urgently transport a number of those wounded to alternate locations due to the severity of their injures, according to local media network Al Arabiya Syria.
The strikes were reported by Syria Network for Human Rights as having hit al Hal Market and the area near two educational facilities – Banat Ariha School and Abdul Hamid Ghnaimi School.
ِAriha Today posted a list of 10 the names of the civilians killed: Qamar Bilal Hafez, Zakaria Ahmed Bazzi, Youssef Muhammad Jamal Al-Hassan, Rimas – daughter of Youssef Al-Hassan – a child, Islam Khaled Al Saraqi – a child, Hassoun Ihsan Al-Khadija Maarrat Al-Numan, Ibrahim Abdul-Wahhab Al-Amin – a child, Omar Abdel-Aal Al-Aboud – a child, Mahmoud Yasser Sareh, Ghassan Sheikh Ibrahim.
Syrian Network for Human Rights reported on October 22nd that Islam al Saraqebi, a child injured on his way to school, died of his wounds.
Several of those killed were relatives of the Syrian Civil Defense ‘White Helmet’ first responders; teacher Qamar Bilal Hafez was the sister of volunteer Basil Hafez, while Ibrahim Al-Amin was the brother of first responder Muhammad Al-Amin. Syrian Civil Defense posted that their volunteers “always fear” that their relatives will be amongst those they are tasked with saving.
Amongst the victims was Youssef Al Hassan, reported killed alongside his young daughter, Rimas Al Hassan. Syrian Civil Defense published comments from a volunteer, ‘Mona’ who attempted to save Rimas, and carried her body to the hospital: “It is very difficult and painful to carry the body of a child whose fault is that she is going to her school. The whole world must feel our pain”.
Ariha Today reported that twin brothers Omar and Ali were traveling to school when the bombing occurred. Omar was killed in the strikes while Ali was wounded and was still being treated for his wounds as of October 22nd. Another victim, Zahra, a five year old girl, “was injured while she was with her father and cousin in the city market”. An image of her posted by Ariha Today shows her crying and covered in blood and wounds from the attack.
Videos circulated of the incident show a whole street of shops almost completely destroyed, while several sources posted graphic images of children lying dead and wounded in the marketplace. Syria Post circulated a video from a security camera in a shop that captured the moment the strike hit the street, likely severely wounding or killing the people inside.
Twitter user @sebusher quoted a civilian who was near the market when it was hit: “When we arrived at the school and the students were there, the shelling and airstrikes started. The students were horrified, they started screaming, we didn’t know what to do.”
ArabiPost reported: “In the hospital where the victims were taken, a person was screaming and crying next to the corpse of a 10-year-old girl,” according to Agence France-Presse. Bilal Tracy, the father of two children who live near the targeted area, told the French agency, “At eight in the morning we woke up to bombardment that was raining down on us. The children were terrified and started screaming. We didn’t know what to do, where to go, and we didn’t see anything because of the dust around us.” Tracy added, “They bombed us in the neighborhood and in the market, there are children who died and people who lost limbs. We don’t know why, what is the fault we have done?””
Facebook user, Al.amen2011, described the atmosphere in the city after the strike: “Night falls on her today, and her moan is almost heard by every human being on the surface of this planet. Joy died today in Ariha, and hundreds of details and stories died today in it.”
The Syria Network for Human Rights appealed to the international community for action following this event: “Through this action, Syrian regime forces have, without doubt, committed another violation of Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2254 which prohibit any further indiscriminate attacks, as well as violating the rules of international humanitarian law which stress the distinction between civilians and combatants. Attacks of this nature spread terror and panic among civilians, leading them to flee their lands and homes in an attempt to reach safety, and forcibly displacing them, with the number of internally displaced persons within Syria currently standing at approximately 6.5 million Syrian citizens in total. The international community should put pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies to force them to compensate the displaced victims, rehabilitate homes and vital centers, support the process of political transition, and press all parties to pursue implementation of political transition according to a strict timetable which must not exceed six months, thus enabling millions of refugees and IDPs to return homes.”
UNICEF also referenced in the incident, reiterating the toll that the conflict is having on children throughout Syria: “Today’s violence is yet another reminder that the war in Syria has not come to an end. Civilians, among them many children, keep bearing the brunt of a brutal decade-long conflict. Attacks on civilians may be a violation of international humanitarian law. Attacks must not be directed against children. Children should be able to reach their schools safely. We repeat our calls to those fighting that children are not a target. They should be protected at all times especially in times of conflict.”
Most sources blamed Russian and/or Syrian regime forces for the strike, while a few sources also pointed to Iranian-backed militias.
The incident occured at 08:00:00 local time.