Idlib’s White Helmets: ‘Clear escalation’ since US hit regime airbase 

Just hours after the April 4 chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Russian warplanes once again flew above northwestern Syria. This time, the target was Salqin, a city in north Idlib province.

The planes reportedly dropped four cluster bombs—internationally banned munitions that explode on impact into smaller, anti-personnel bomblets—in Salqin, killing 40 civilians and injuring 28 more.

It was the beginning of a bloody week in northwestern Syria—one in which pro-opposition Syrian activists accused regime and Russian forces of using internationally banned weapons in a half dozen separate attacks across rebel-held Idlib province.

These attacks represent a “clear escalation” in the use of internationally banned weapons, Idlib Civil Defense spokesman Abdelhamid tells Syria Direct’s Waleed a-Nofal.

The recent “escalation” follows a US military strike on a Syrian government airbase last Thursday, described by the Trump administration as a response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons banned under international law.

Q: Would you say that the regime and Russia have increased their use in Idlib province of internationally banned weapons—phosphorous and cluster munitions, for example—since the US strike on Shayrat airbase on 6 April?

Yes, there is a clear escalation. Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets have been using S8 rockets since last Friday, as well as phosphorous and cluster munitions to target Idlib. They’ve clearly ramped up their use of cluster bombs and phosphorous, not to mention conventional weaponry.

 Photos and a diagram of an S8 rocket similar to those used by Russian and Syrian forces. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Q: How much did the frequency of military strikes using internationally banned weapons increase after the American attack on the Shayrat airbase? How many attacks have happened since then?

The regime’s military escalation in Idlib began about a year ago, utilizing different weapons. But after the American strike on the Shayrat airbase, the number of attacks in Idlib using cluster bombs and phosphorus increased by more than 50 percent, compared with before the American strike.

 A warning sign rests above an undetonated cluster bomblet in Idlib province on April 11. Photo Courtesy of Idlib Civil Defense.

[Ed.: The number of cluster bomb strikes from April 5–10 alone is double the weekly average for 2016–2017, according to a report released in February by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). SNHR and multiple Civil Defense sources assert that the usage of incendiary weapons sharply increased after the American strike on Shayrat airbase.]

There have been seven incendiary and cluster bomb strikes since last Friday, with most areas being struck repeatedly by these internationally banned weapons.

Q: What difficulties are the Civil Defense facing in dealing with these internationally prohibited weapons?

There are many difficulties, such as the regime’s use of cluster bombs.

These bombs are used widely and children approach them because they resemble toys. It’s becomes more difficult to deal with them.

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.

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.