Warplanes strike southern Idlib with alleged incendiary bombs: Civil Defense, residents

AMMAN: Warplanes reportedly hit rural towns and villages across rebel-held southern Idlib province with incendiary, “napalm”-like bombs for a second day on Thursday, Civil Defense volunteers and residents on the ground told Syria Direct.

The strikes are the largest incendiary weapons attack reported on rural Idlib since November, and come as rebel and government forces battle for control of a military airport and surrounding territory in rural eastern Idlib.

No deaths were reported on Thursday.

The bombs reportedly hit the “outskirts” of a handful of rebel-held southern Idlib towns, including at least one informal encampment that houses families displaced by recent fighting across Idlib province, witnesses told Syria Direct.

An unspecified number of airstrikes hit the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-controlled town 53 kilometers south of Idlib city on Thursday morning, the Civil Defense reported in a Facebook post. Khan Sheikhoun was the target of a chemical attack last April that killed at least 74 people.

Aftermath of an alleged incendiary bomb outside Khan Sheikhoun on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defense-Idlib.

In one picture from the aftermath of Thursday’s strikes, Civil Defense volunteers were working to extinguish a fire reportedly brought on by a bombing in an orchard outside Khan Sheikhoun by burying the flames, as some incendiary weapons fires are difficult to extinguish with water.

Civil Defense teams “tried covering up [the fires] with dirt,” Ahmad Sheikho, a Civil Defense spokesman, told Syria Direct, “but they wouldn’t go out.”

The bombings on Thursday followed an onslaught of airstrikes the night before, allegedly bearing internationally banned incendiary weapons including possible “napalm” and white phosphorous, witnesses and Civil Defense members said.

Incendiary munitions cause fires that are difficult to extinguish. Victims caught in an incendiary munitions attack can incur severe burns that are hard for health workers to treat in Idlib province, where medical supplies are limited.

“We tried to put out the fires in the areas [targeted], but the burning only increased,” said Civil Defense spokesman Sheikho. “That’s what told us these bombs were napalm.”

Two Civil Defense volunteers and two residents who witnessed the bombings said they also saw signs typical of internationally banned incendiary munitions.

“I heard the sound of a missile and then something lit up the window of the room I was in,” Saad Zeidan, a photographer for the pro-opposition site Orient News told Syria Direct from his hometown of Hass, one of the towns reportedly struck by the bombs on Wednesday night.

The bombs hit roughly 300 meters away from an informal encampment filled with people displaced from ongoing battles across Idlib province, said Heidan.

Civil Defense workers were “taking samples” from the sites of the bombings on Thursday to a Civil Defense office in Idlib city for examination and storage, said Rami Abu Ali, a Civil Defense volunteer in rural southern Idlib who responded to the attacks on Wednesday night.

Syria Direct reached out to an official from the Civil Defense office in Idlib city reportedly storing samples from the bombings on Wednesday and Thursday, but received no response.

Russian state news outlet TASS did not report the alleged incendiary munitions strikes on Wednesday and Thursday. SANA, Syria’s state media agency, also did not report the bombings.

Syrian government and Russian forces carried out at least 22 incendiary weapons attacks in Syria in 2017, according to a Human Rights Watch report released last November. US-led coalition forces also allegedly fired white phosphorus munitions over Raqqa city in June, at the height of the battle to drive out the Islamic State, anti-IS monitoring group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported at the time.

Ammar Hamou

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

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.