Deadly airstrikes kill, injure scores in northwest Syrian town despite de-escalation agreement

AMMAN: Three airstrikes hit a busy market and a police station in the northwest Aleppo province town of Atareb on Monday afternoon, killing at least 40 people and injuring scores more despite a standing de-escalation agreement in the area.

The main market in Atareb, an opposition-held town 30km west of Aleppo city, was filled with people at just after 2pm local time on Monday when at least six missiles fired in three consecutive air raids slammed into it and a nearby police station, local civilian and medical sources told Syria Direct.

“The bombings left a 150-square-meter site of total destruction inside the market during peak hours,” Dr. Hassan Ubaid, the director of the Atareb Primary Care Clinic, which is treating some of the wounded, told Syria Direct.

Neither Russian nor Syrian state media commented on the airstrikes.

The nearby station of the Aleppo Free Police, a Turkish-trained civil police force that performs security functions in the opposition-held countryside, was destroyed in the attacks.

Atareb’s market on Monday. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Civil Defense Directorate.

Medical workers in Atareb and the west Aleppo countryside could not give a final death toll or injury count on Monday afternoon as rescuers continued to comb through the rubble.

Ubaid told Syria Direct that to his knowledge “more than 60” people were injured in the attack and as of early evening local time provided a list of the names of 40 people reportedly killed.

“We expect there are more victims under the rubble, and there are critically injured people who may die,” said Ubaid.

“There were more people than this hospital could take,” said the doctor. Victims of the airstrikes were taken to four local hospitals and into Turkey via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing 15km northwest of Atareb.

All Civil Defense teams in the west Aleppo countryside were on the scene of the Atareb bombing to search for survivors, recover bodies and clear rubble from roadways, said Abdelrazaq Shakurdi, a citizen journalist in the town.

“The last time we were bombed was before the de-escalation zones, or around two months ago,” said Shakurdi.

Rescue operations in Atareb on Monday. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Civil Defense Directorate.

Russian-negotiated de-escalation zones went into effect across Syria in recent months, including one covering Idlib province and parts of neighboring Aleppo, including Atareb. The town is home to some 45,000 people, many of them displaced from neighboring areas. It was not immediately clear why Atareb would be bombed.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions including Thuwar a-Sham and the Islamist group Nour e-Din a-Zinki have a presence around Atareb. This past March, Atareb residents demonstrated against aggression in the area by the hardline coalition Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), which is led by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate. HTS is not included in the de-escalation agreement.

The Aleppo Civil Defense identified the warplanes that carried out Monday’s bombing as Russian. The Civil Defense said the missiles used in the attack were “bunker buster” missiles, a claim that could not be verified.

“Today’s bombings came suddenly,” a member of the Atareb Media Center who preferred to remain anonymous told Syria Direct on Monday. “We didn’t hear any planes or anything to signal there would be an attack.”

With additional reporting by Justin Clark.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Ammar Hamou

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

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.