Hours after rebels reportedly shoot down chopper, airstrikes pummel nearby city

AMMAN: Russian warplanes unleashed “dozens” of airstrikes in northwest Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province late Monday night, killing at least five civilians just hours after area rebels claimed they shot down a military helicopter in the nearby countryside, sources on the ground told Syria Direct.  

The Islamist Ahrar a-Sham group, one of three main rebel coalitions in control of Idlib province, claimed responsibility for downing a helicopter in the regime-held northern Latakia mountains on Monday. 

Russian state media on Monday dismissed rumors that one of its aircraft had been shot down. Syrian state media did not mention a downed helicopter. 

However, on Monday Syrian state-owned daily Tishreen reported that the government had intercepted plans for an attack “within the next several days” on neighboring northern Latakia province by an Al-Qaeda-linked militia. Located about 10km northeast of Latakia province, Idlib province’s Jisr a-Shughour is the closest opposition controlled city to the scene of the attack.

On Monday evening, Russian warplanes reportedly carried out a series of airstrikes in Jisr a-Shughour, home to 44,000 people, “with cluster bombs, targeting residential neighborhoods,” Dreid Haj Hamoud, a Civil Defense spokesman inside the city told Syria Direct.

 Civil Defense volunteers in Jisr a-Shughour late Monday night. Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defense-Idlib

The airstrikes continued into Tuesday, with "eight airstrikes within the space of just half an hour," an activist with the Jisr a-Shugour Media Center told Syria Direct the next day.

The raids killed five people, including two children, said the Civil Defense’s Hamoud. 

Civil Defense volunteers spent “long hours” Monday night and early Tuesday morning digging through the rubble after the airstrikes toppled civilian homes.  

A Civil Defense-Idlib video posted late Monday night shows rescuers removing the body of one middle-aged man from the wreckage, under almost complete darkness. 

The city’s electricity was “cut off” by the bombings, said Hamoud, leaving him and other emergency responders to rely on their headlamps for light. “Without electricity, our work was far more difficult,” he told Syria Direct. 

“We didn’t even have time to breathe, due to the continued bombings.”

‘Retaliation’

Airstrikes are not new to Jisr a-Shughour, where residents “are accustomed to retaliation against civilians after every regime loss,” a journalist with the local Jisr a-Shughour Media Center told Syria Direct on Tuesday

A local citizen journalist and a fighter from the Islamist Ahrar a-Sham group accused pro-regime forces of hitting Jisr a-Shughour in retaliation for losses incurred elsewhere in Syria.

 Civil Defense volunteers in Jisr a-Shughour late Monday night. Photo courtesy of Jisr a-Shughour Media Center.

“The biggest reason for [Monday night’s] bombings are the regime’s losses in Hama and Damascus,” a journalist with the local Jisr a-Shughour Media Center told Syria Direct on Tuesday.  

Located 30km west of Idlib city, Jisr a-Shughour is far removed from ongoing battles between opposition and regime forces in neighboring northern Hama province, where rebels Tuesday captured two towns north of regime-held Hama city, according to pro-opposition news outlet Qasioun.  

"They are taking revenge for what is going on in Hama,” said one fighter from Ahrar a-Sham, which has a presence in the city. 

Hardline Islamist coalition Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) and FSA-affiliated Jaish al-Izza announced coordinated military offensives last week in northern Hama to “relieve pressure” on a separate rebel campaign against regime-held areas of northeastern Damascus, Syria Direct reported at the time.   

Meanwhile, HTS and Free Syrian army fighters on the outskirts of Damascus are in the second week of a battle to seize control of a northeastern neighborhood that would link two rebel-held pockets northeast of the capital and ensure the unhindered flow of vital food and medical supplies between the two separate districts.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.