Syrian Civil Defense response teams are struggling to keep up with the fallout of the Russian and the Syrian regime air campaign in the country’s northwest.
On Monday, the Civil Defense began posting signs in several Syrian provinces warning civilians to “stay away from areas bombed by the planes of the Russian occupation,” which are leaving behind unexploded cluster munitions.
“What we have noticed is that the explosions happen back-to-back, and it could take 15 minutes after impact before they explode,” Rafea al-Ahmad, a Civil Defense worker in the Idlib countryside, tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani on Tuesday.
“They say that they are targeting terrorists, but unfortunately they aren’t killing anyone but women and children and innocents.”
Q: To what extent can these warnings [to stay away from Russian-targeted areas] help minimize the number of casualties?
It will certainly help a lot, because civilians are unaware and head towards the location of an explosion in attempt to help the injured, which exposes them to the risk of being hit by follow-up bombings. There are also a lot of munitions that don’t explode on impact and are extremely dangerous. A gathering of people also becomes another target for the planes to bomb. We sound sirens to warn people—we have an observer who tells us if there are planes in the sky.
Q: In the warning, you say that Russian planes use cluster bombs. What can you tell us about these munitions from your experience, and is the Civil Defense able to do anything to deal with them?
These weapons are extremely powerful and lethal, but what we have noticed is that the explosions happen back-to-back, and it could take 15 minutes after impact before they explode. We aren’t weapons experts, but cluster munitions are banned internationally, and unfortunately they are being used against us.
We don’t have different protocols for dealing with them, we work with the little that we have in terms of available equipment.
Q: How do you respond to Russia and Syria’s justification of the bombings?
They say that they are targeting terrorists, but unfortunately they aren’t killing anyone but women and children and innocents, which is what happened in Jabal Zawiya in the Idlib countryside, where a mother and her 5 kids were killed when a medical center was targeted. We, as the Civil Defense, say to the Russians that you are supporting the regime and killing a steadfast people. We consider you war criminals just like the regime and the Syrian people won’t forget what you have done.