Airstrikes in eastern Syria leave scores dead on the banks of the Euphrates River

AMMAN: Suspected Russian or regime warplanes bombed Islamic State (IS)-held villages in Syria's eastern Deir e-Zor province on Wednesday, sources on the ground told Syria Direct, killing and injuring dozens of civilians in some of the most intense attacks in months. 

Wednesday's bombings hit villages near the Islamic State-held town of al-Mayadeen along the western bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Deir e-Zor province, where forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are currently waging a ground offensive with Russian and regime air support.

Russian, regime and US-led international coalition warplanes are all currently conducting strikes in Deir e-Zor province. Pro-opposition activists said the aircraft that conducted Wednesday's strikes was Russian, but Syria Direct could not independently verify this claim.

The aftermath of Wednesday’s bombing in al-Ashara. Photo courtesy of Al Qouriya Today.

In the Deir e-Zor town of al-Ashara, warplanes struck an informal crossing used by civilians to travel by boat across the Euphrates River on Wednesday, killing 38 civilians, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Various pro-opposition media sources placed the death toll as high as 67 civilians at the time of publication.

Civilians in IS-held areas near the Euphrates River rely on impromptu crossings to travel between banks after the US-led anti-IS coalition destroyed the river’s bridges last year.

“It was like judgment day,” Muhammad Eissa, a civilian from al-Ashara who survived the airstrikes, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“There were children screaming, planes flying low above us,” said Eissa. “Some bodies went into the river, and even now there are bodies in the streets with no one to take them away.”

Burned vehicles after airstrikes target the village of al-Ashara. Photo courtesy of Al Qouriya Today.

Around a dozen separate airstrikes struck other towns and cities in Deir e-Zor province that day, leaving more than 100 civilians dead, the pro-opposition Euphrates Post reported.

Syrian state news service SANA reported that Syrian warplanes launched “intensive strikes” against IS positions in al-Mayadeen and several other cities in eastern and southeastern Deir e-Zor province on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) released a statement noting “an increasingly worrying spike in military operations that correlates with a high number of civilian casualties” in Deir e-Zor province and elsewhere in Syria.

US-backed forces are also waging a ground offensive against IS in Deir e-Zor, with coalition warplanes providing air support. According to the coalition’s daily strike report, its warplanes launched eight airstrikes on IS targets in Deir e-Zor province on Tuesday and Wednesday. The coalition did not provide the exact locations of any airstrikes.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.