What Just Happened in Idlib?

On 19 September, the Syrian government sent a defiant message to the international community by lighting Idlib on fire with a wave of airstrikes against hospitals, first responders, IDP shelters and other civilian targets across the governorate.

Background: On 15 September at the end of a two-day Astana conference, Russia, Turkey, and Iran announced that they had agreed upon a de-escalation zone in Idlib, and that all three countries would serve as guarantors. The next day Syrian state media SANA reported that the country would not accept Turkish forces in the country, undermining the announcement made the day before.

Less than a week later, as world leaders discussed Syria in New York at the annual UNGA summit, pro-government warplanes unleashed on civilian targets in Idlib. Armed groups led by the extremist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) launched a new offensive around Maan in northern Hama, with the goal of undermining the de-escalation agreement. The Syrian state news agency SANA published an article about the battle, claiming that the Syrian Air Force had carried out a number of strikes “on the terrorists’ supply lines” in the border between Hama and Idlib. (Note the article was only published in English, and was not available on the state news agency’s primary Arabic language site, suggesting the true target of the messaging is external). But the government’s claim of fighting terrorists is belied by the airstrikes themselves – which focused on medical centers and Syrian Civil Defense stations – and the use of “double tap” strikes against first responders.

Here are some of the main attacks:

Al-Teh, Idlib

  • Al-Rahman obstetrics hospital in the town of al-Teh, Idlib was targeted with three airstrikes. Two women and a child were killed, as well as a number of injuries and destruction of the hospital’s infrastructure. (Idlib SCD FB, Idlib SCD FB)
  • There was a double tap strike, and first responders were targeted while trying to put out the fires from the first al-Rahman attacks. (Idlib SCD FB)

Kafr Nabl, Idlib

  • An airstrike targeted the Syrian civil Defense center in Kafr Nabl, Idlib, taking it out of service. (SCD FB, Idlib SCD FB)
  • An airstrike targeted the Orient surgical hospital in Kafr Nabl, Idlib, taking it out of service. (Idlib SCD FB)
  • An airstrike targeted the Kafr Nabl Local Council building. (Kafr Nabl LC FB)

Al-Habeit, Idlib

  • An airstrike targeted a school being used as an IDP shelter in al-Habeit, Idlib. When first responders arrived they were hit again with a double tap airstrike. Five Syrian Civil Defense volunteers, an ambulance driver, and several civilians were injured. (SCD FB, Idlib SCD FB, Habeit LC FB)
  •  One person was killed in al-Habeit when an airstrike targeted civilian homes. Injuries and property destruction were reported. (SCD Idlib FB, SCD Idlib FB)

Al-Tamanah, Idlib

  • An airstrike targeted theSyrian civil Defense center in al-Tamanah, Idlib, taking it out of service. (SCD FB, Idlib SCD FB)

Khan Sheikhoun City

  • An airstrike targeted theSyrian civil Defense center in Khan Sheikhoun city, Idlib, putting it out of service. (Idlib SCD FB, Idlib SCD FB, SCD FB)
  • Airstrikes also targeted al-Rahma hospital in Khan Sheikhoun city, taking it out of service. (Idlib SCD FB)
  • Residential neighborhoods of Khan Sheikhoun city were targeted with vacuum bombs in more than ten Assad Coalition airstrikes. (Idlib SCD FB)

The Syrian government is known to coordinate big attacks to coincide with major international events (the April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack was launched while international stakeholders were gathered in Brussels for the “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” conference), so the timing of these airstrikes should come as no surprise. Assad also regularly reminds the world that he intends to take back the entire country by force, despite the western talk of transition and his backer Russia’s apparent efforts to establish de-escalation zones.

Today’s attacks should serve as a wake up call for world powers ready to declare the conflict over with the defeat of ISIS, and who are placing their hopes of de-escalation in the hands of Assad’s key military backer – Russia. As ISIS’ territory shrinks, the day is fast approaching when this wishful thinking will run up against the reality of the war.

Photos from the Idlib Syrian Civil Defense (above) show aftermath of 19 September airstrikes

Post date: 19 September 2017