Dozens of casualties in Daraa countryside town as airstrikes spill over from rebel-regime battles in provincial capital

AMMAN: Residents of an opposition-held town in southwestern Syria are reeling after the second major airstrike in ten days pushed the death count there to over 30, residents and Civil Defense members tell Syria Direct.

A Syrian regime warplane reportedly carried out four airstrikes on Tafas, a western Daraa countryside town, on Wednesday afternoon, killing 11 people and injuring more than a dozen more, Abu Raad al-Jababi, a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense in the town told Syria Direct on Wednesday. 

One of the airstrikes hit a school in the town that housed displaced families from elsewhere in Daraa province, sources in Tafas told Syria Direct. Videos posted after the airstrike show Civil Defense members rushing to the scene of a partially collapsed school building.

“The townspeople were filled with fear and panic,” Hassan al-Bardan, a Tafas resident who rushed to the school to assist rescuers after the strike, told Syria Direct on Thursday.  “As we were rushing to help out, we saw more bombs falling," the 29-year-old added.

Wednesday’s airstrikes on Tafas mark the second major attack on the western Daraa town in just over a week. On June 5, three reportedly Russian missiles struck a camp housing displaced families, residential homes and roadway, killing 12 residents and injuring dozens more, Syria Direct reported the following day.

 Civil Defense personnel pull children from wreckage of Wednesday’s airstrike on Tafas. Photo courtesy of Radio Free Syria.

Tafas lies 15km northwest of Daraa city, where pro-regime and opposition forces are locked in the largest battle the provincial capital has witnessed since 2015.

Clashes erupted in Daraa city at beginning of June, accompanied by Russian and regime airstrikes on the rebel-held half of the provincial capital, as well as opposition-controlled regions in the western and eastern countryside.

Since the aerial escalation began, “airstrikes have killed more than 30 people” in Tafas, Civil Defense spokesman al-Jababi said. 

Tafas’s only field hospital is currently treating 13 residents injured in the strike, most of whom are in “critical condition,” al-Jababi added.

The battle for Daraa city resumed on June 3 after rebels claimed that the regime exploited a May ceasefire agreement to bring reinforcements and launch an attack on opposition-held districts, Syria Direct reported at the time.

 Aftermath of Wednesday’s airstrike on Tafas. Photo courtesy of Nabaa Media

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies currently control the city’s northern and western neighborhoods. Rebel factions from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ahrar a-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham—a hardline Islamist coalition including former Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah a-Sham—hold nearly all of the city’s southern half.

Since heavy fighting resumed, Syrian Civil Defense teams in the region have “documented more than 179 airstrikes and 595 barrel bombs” in Daraa city and the surrounding countryside, the organization reported on their Facebook page Thursday.

Increased bombings threaten to exacerbate an already dire displacement crisis in Daraa province, where nearly one third of the total population is internally displaced according to the latest UN estimates.

Tafas itself has absorbed many displaced people, in recent months and years, swelling its population and increasing the danger of aerial bombardment.                 

Tafas resident al-Bardan told Syria Direct that he could hear helicopters flying over his town on Thursday, intensifying residents' fears.

"The sound is terrifying," he said.

Lina Eghzawi

Originally from Daraa, Lina studied Literature at Damascus University. She moved to Jordan in 2012 and completed a degree in interior design.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Alaa Rateb

Originally from Homs, Alaa Moved to Jordan in 2013 due to the security situation in Syria. She volunteered with Syrian refugees before joining Syria Direct.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.